Category Archives: Gentle Horsemanship

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!

Communicating with horses

From Cathi

Hello Doc…

Just thought I would write to you about a little work I have been doing lately with my Welsh pony JayJay. I recently brought him home; he had been away for a few years, and as it turns out the last two he spent languishing in a pasture with his older equine companion and a goat. He is “Mr. Personality”, a beautiful dark bay, 13.2HH, driving pony. In harness and cart I’ve thought of him as my sports car; he is quick, agile and flashy. He had very little contact with people for the last two years, was down on his weight, had forgotten his ground manners, and was very much in need of some attention and ‘tune-up’ time.

I feed him grain and hay in a large feeder that is placed about 10 feet inside an open ended run-in shelter inside his paddock. He is very interested in that grain, and the good hay he is now getting. So interested that he charged in on me to get at the feed. He saw me as merely part of the food delivery system, showing no respect for me or my space; he just wanted his food. This sort of behavior was unnerving to me, and felt dangerous and unnecessary. I decided that it was important to start working on boundaries with him at feeding time.

On the first day of boundary training, I walked into the shelter, carrying the grain canister in one hand and my 4 foot long, 1 inch diameter stick in the other. JayJay rushed along behind me and crashed ahead of me to the feeder. I set the feed canister on a high shelf and turned, facing the pony directly. Coincidentally, there is a railroad tie on the ground across the opening of the run-in shelter. I decided that rail road tie was the ‘boundary’; It helped me as much as it did him to have a very real physical boundary to work with. My intention that morning was to drive him back behind the boundary and wait until I gave him a signal to come in and eat.

This took some doing, as he was used to getting the food right away; not getting it made him even more focused and somewhat anxious about getting to that food. I got his attention with my voice and used body language to drive him off. Not being completely successful with the body language, I also used ‘eyes on eyes’ to reinforce that I wanted him to go away from the feeder. Once he was on the other side of the boundary, I used the stick as an extension of my hand and arm (not touching him with it) to keep him back.

This exercise was awkward and probably confusing to him, still, I persevered in holding him back. He was so persistent to get to that feeder, me just as persistent to keep him behind that boundary, using all the body language, eyes on eyes, and arm and stick waving and loud a voice as I could muster at that early hour of the morning. Finally, I saw my opportunity to reward a behavior; his feet stopped, his head went down, he licked and chewed-showing me his submission. Whew! I said, “O K”, to him, grabbed the canister, dumped the grain into the feeder, and let him walk in quietly to eat. I scratched him on his rump and left him with a verbal “Good Boy!”

Each feeding since, I’ve asked for quiet feet and quiet signs of submission from him, before dumping the food and giving him permission to enter the area and eat. One day I was on the phone to you, Doc, while going through this procedure, giving the “O. K.” after JayJay lowered his head, licking and chewing. I said to you then, Doc, “I feel like he isn’t telling the truth, that he is going through the motions, but only to get that grain, not truly giving in.”

You suggested that it was time to bump up my request from him. At his next feeding time, I waited until his feet were quiet. He put his head down, licked and chewed, but I didn’t give him the verbal approval he expected, he tried to move over the boundary. I had to use body language again to keep him behind the boundary. He again quieted his feet, look at me, and then put his head down licking and chewing. I knew that he was getting frustrated; this exact behavior had been rewarded before. I thought to myself, “What am I looking for, and how am I going to let him know what it is? And there it was, the behavior I was looking for! His feet and body had become quiet; he looked at me, and randomly and quietly turned his head away and he looked over at the neighbors’ horses. I gave him the verbal cue, “O K” and dumped the feed into the feeder. He quietly walked in to the feed area and began eating. I’m thinking, “Hmmmm, this is working, we are shaping this pony’s behavior.”

He and I have worked this way now for about a month. Some days, he walks with me to the barrier, stands and waits, looks at me, looks away (as if casually looking over the landscape). I say “O.K.” and he gets his food. Other days he doesn’t show up right away. I now wait t see him, dump his feed and wait for him to come to the barrier and stop. I now say, “Woah!” as he gets to the barrier. He stops, looks at me, calmly looks away, and I give him the “O.K.” signal. JayJay is such a good student. This training is fun and thrilling for me.

Doc, I am so delighted with how this has worked. It feels good! It feels good because this relationship is based on clear communication, trust, and respect; it also feels good because I have a gentle and kind working relationship with this pony. There is a deeper reason for this to feel good.

Have I ever told you about my communication resolution? Several years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was in my barn feeding the Fjords their Holiday evening meal. I was touched and moved by their gentle spirits and felt fortunate to be in their presence and spent quite a bit of time that evening observing them eating and enjoying the sound of their munching.

I could see that they communicated information to each other, moving one another over, away from the food, inviting one to come in closer. Was it a look, a tail swish, what? The communication was so subtle, I saw it all, but I didn’t know what each movement meant. Another big question for me was what was I missing that these equine were communicating to me? The understanding was not intuitive for me and seemed both mysterious and sophisticated at the same time. How did they share information with each other without speaking! I realized how fascinating this was to me, and I made a New Year’s resolution to seek understanding of equine communication. I have since followed a path that has given me wonderful communication opportunities for a higher connection with these equine I am privileged enough to spend time with daily. This is just the beginning! I am excited and imagining the opportunities, they are the previews to coming attractions. Thank you for your help and guidance. This has such meaning for me.

JayJay and I are interacting gently and quietly, and we are both getting what we need. Doc, You tell me that this ground work all transfers to working with horses in harness and under saddle, wow…I get energized at the possibilities! Do you know I think this sort of communication transfers to human relationships too?

Paige takes a big stride forward

From Steve Wood:
A wonderful chapter has opened in Paige’s driving career this week. She has become comfortable with a vehicle behind her, as well as a human or two being in the vehicle. She has been hooked to this vehicle as well as the single two wheeled cart, but has never been comfortable in the past. This is rather an involved story, but it is a great one!

Last week, after returning from the Natural Gait, I noticed Paige and Val (our most talented helper horse), looking for each other and occasionally calling to each other. Both Val and Paige made the trip to The Natural Gait, but did not work together while there. They also traveled in separate trailers. The closest they got was being paddocked in adjacent paddocks. These paddocks are about 15 feet apart. Somehow they got to talking to each other.

So, on Monday evening this week, I decided to try to put them together in a large paddock overnight. They calmly said hello, went to separate piles of hay, and began to eat. I watched a while a went to the house. About 1:30 in the morning a loud horse argument was in progress, so I got out of bed and headed out to investigate. When I got to the paddock, the two horses were standing very close to each other, and both were resting a hind leg. When I went into the pen, Paige got very vocal as I approached Val. A very Low voice, but very intense. Val had no marks but, Paige had two significant marks. One from a set of teeth, and one from a glancing hoof. She let me investigate them, but swished her tail at me as I got my hands close to them. They were sore. I watched the two of them for about an hour, and twice during that time, I began to catch Val to move her out to another, adjacent paddock. Paige nearly put herself in between Val and me, and talked in that low voice. (Very interesting,She controls from a subordinate position in the herd). Finally I added a bit more hay, the first piles were not completed, and went back to bed.

Tuesday morning, when I pulled Val out to go into her day stall, Paige and Val both began calling and looking for the other. They called and fidgeted for 2 hours, ignoring hay!! Finally, I harnessed Val and brought her to the barn where Paige was still calling every 30 seconds, and both went silent. Next we harnessed Paige in a farm harness. She has not worn a farm harness in over two months. I put them together and they walked out of the barn as calm and quiet as any old team would. Once outside we hooked to a team stone boat and they drove around for about an hour with calm, steady steps, quiet stands, and just plain a sense of calm all the while. For Paige, that is way longer than in the past.

Tuesday night they paddocked together, and Wednesday’s driving was a monumental day!
We harnessed in farm harness, and walked out to the waiting Fore-cart. We had Paige step over the tongue, and she stepped over like an old pro! We stood still, and then walked away calmly when I asked for them to walk. This weird sense of calm is still here, so I just stepped them over the tongue again, and they stood perfectly still for lifting the tongue, and then hitching to the eveners. I stepped up into the seat and wiggled it around a bit. I asked the team to walk and they stepped out together, and walked around the woods for about an hour. What a joy! When I returned to the barn, a loaded spreader caught my eye. We stopped, backed up to the spreader, stood still, hooked onto the spreader, and walked off calmly when asked. Can you believe it???

We walked out to an unused pasture, and stopped to put the spreader in gear. Still calm. When I asked them to step forward, Paige was bit quicker than Val, and kept leaning on the collar until Val joined in. That is Big Time Comfortable Horse behavior!!! As we unloaded I just could not contain Myself, and I called Karen while we walked calmly down the pasture.
We finished the load, I disengaged the spreader, and then continued to talk to Karen as we oh so calmly walked back to the barn through the woods. There was no one to take a picture.

Today we had Cathy home to get photos, so we did it all again. What a day! Thank you all for your part in this story. Team Paige has many members who helped us find a few of the pieces to this 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Come out for a wagon ride someday in the near future and see your project in action.

(You can read more about Paige here.)

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.

Training all the time

From Cathi:

I just finished reading Doc’s latest article, “Who’s the Boss? Part 2, Gently Becoming Your Horse’s Trusted and Respected Leader” in the Winter 2009, Small Farmer’s Journal which reminded me of something that I thought maybe others would find interesting.

Doc’s concept of Training all the Time has been a powerful tool for me. I used to think, “I am not a trainer,” little did I realize that I actually was training the horses! When one considers that horses are learning all the time, we do train horses every time we are with them. Taking that thought to the next level, it becomes our responsibility to be mindful in our interactions with them. We can use every opportunity interacting with them as a training session.

This model has taken me from thinking of ‘training’ as isolated formal lessons I scheduled with myself and my horses to training anytime I am with horses. As I feed, water, catch, groom, lead, tie, harness, trailer load, drive, ride, or simply move them from paddock to pasture, I do so in ways that teach lessons dealing with behaviors I desire from the horses. I set up situations that will make it easy for the horses to make the choices I want, and then reward those appropriate behaviors. I move, speak, and interact with them in ways that consider the horses’ natural language.

Every lesson, no matter how small the step, is also intended to help them remember that I am their herd leader. This idea has made me a responsible horse owner, given me more confidence, helps the horses behave in ways that are safer (for me and them) and certainly helps me appreciate the positive changes I see in their behavior. Training is no longer a mystery that was somebody else’s responsibility (ever heard anybody say they needed to “take the horse to the trainer”), but it is my opportunity to interact with horses in rewarding ways every time I am with them.

Here is an example of one way I have used this. Have you ever taken a flake of hay into your horses’ feed area, and have your horse crowd into your space, and take a bite of the hay you are carrying? Maybe it is dark outside, maybe muddy, or icy and you are not sure of your footing, and the crowding horse makes the situation unsafe. I currently must walk through a paddock with three horses to get to the barn where the feed is kept. The horses are so happy (or are they just hungry?) to see me at feeding times that all three are right at the gate when I get there. I greet each one with an affectionate scratching on their forehead, and then make each one “go away” from me. I make them go 10 or more feet away.

As I walk to the barn through the paddock, I insist that they all stay away, no crowding into my space, or coming any closer than 10 feet. Once I get to the barn, I have established a routine of putting each horse’s feed bag on, one at a time. The routine has gotten fairly elaborate, and I am surprised how willing the horses are to follow it. Sometimes one or the other of the horses will break the routine, and I go back to square one to remind them what that routine is. It is worth it to me to take the extra time to go get a horse, lead them back to the feed area, and resume the routine, so that we all keep the pattern going.

After they are done with their grain, they are given hay. The hay feeding station is inside the paddock; the hay must be carried through a gate and placed into the feeder. My arms are full carrying the hay; I used to feel vulnerable to their crowding and not very safe at this point.

Again, I have worked with them, and the three must go away as I come through the gate and carry the hay to the feeder. They are, after all horses, and frequently need reminding to stay away, however are willing to go back to the routine if I follow through with my request. If I let up on my requirement of them staying away, they would be back into my space; I have learned to be consistent. When I have placed the hay in the feeder, I tell them, ok, and they may then come in to eat. I am so much more comfortable feeding using this approach. It has been fascinating to me to watch the willingness the horses show to follow a routine, and the expectation they have for me to be consistent if they are going to be.

Starting Belle

From Walt:

Hey Doug! Thanks for helping me start Belle, our Suffolk mare, at the last Winter Workshop at our farm. Since then I have been working with her every day. Basically, I used your DVD Starting Colts as a guide to what exercises to do and added a few things of my own. I would watch part of the DVD and then go out and do it. One thing I noticed about you ‘moves’ in the round pen is that you have a really fast reaction time; where did you get that reflex speed?!!

3/2/09 You worked with Belle about 1.5 hrs. As I recall, she was defiant and you spent most of the time establishing yourself as the leader by pushing her away. You worked on keeping her attention focused on you. By the end of the session, she would turn her head to follow you and eventually turned a few steps to follow you. You called it good and then we left her in the round pen for several hours to ‘think about it.” I thought your idea of leaving her alone in the round pen to process what just happened was a great idea and hadn’t occurred to me before, but, as I thought about it, when your done with a session, if you leave the horse by itself and later come back as the leader to lead the animal back to the herd group; this act is a strong reinforcement of the lesson we are trying to impart.

3/3/09 I had Belle in the round pen. I did some basic lead rope exercises until she demonstrated that she wasn’t completely with me, so I pushed her away with the plastic bag on a stick (PBOS), until she licked and chewed. She was only bending her head in a little, and not dropping her head much, however by the end of the session she would turn to face me as I walked (with pressure off) to her left and a little to the right from the opposite side of the round pen.

3/4/09 I pushed her hard away from me with the PBOS to get more signs of submission than the day before. I was able to get lots of licking, chewing, and her head would bend in from the rail to me some. She would turn to follow me both directions from a distance and at her head, but I would loose her if I walked out straight, so I would continue walking but make an arc to pick her back up. Then I roped her out with rope, burlap bag, plastic baggie, and a plastic bag on a stick. I rubbed these items all over her and with the bag on the stick waved it in the air all around her. She accepted all of this readily and stood quietly.

3/5/09 I pushed her away and she early on licked and chewed. I hung out with her, brushed her out, roped her out and then tried to get her to follow me. She would follow me in arcs but not straight ahead, however she definitely had her attention on me. I had to do something elsewhere on the farm so I left her in the pen for a while. When I returned she readily followed me around both directions and straight ahead for a few steps. If I got out to far ahead I just arced around to pick her back up. Called it good for the day. This is when I discovered that leaving the horse alone to process things adds a reinforcing dimension to the lesson of who is the leader, as I mentioned above.

3/7/09 I laid a big piece of plastic down in the round pen. She was a little hesitant about it initially, but picked me up and followed me around readily without a lead rope. (I guess I should mention that when I say follow, I mean without a halter or lead rope in all cases unless otherwise stated.) I initially could not get her to walk across the plastic but by arcing and having her turn in circles I worked her closer to the plastic, eventually getting her front feet on it. I would stop and praise her, then continue. Eventually, I got her to walk over the plastic sheet several times. Then I worked with her feet during which she stood readily for.

3/8/09 worked her with the plastic sheet still on the ground in the round pen. From the beginning she followed me readily all directions and over the plastic. Kris, my wife, came along which was a distraction to the horse, and I will need to work with her further on that. After Kris left, she readily came back with her attention on me so I elected to not make an issue of the distraction and continue with some positive work. The horse was back following and standing with me real well. I laid the harness and collar in the round pen and had the horse follow me near, around, and away from the harness which I accomplished like I did when I introduced her to the plastic sheet—in turns and arcs. I put the collar on her, which she readily accepted.

Then I moved the collar about on her shoulders and removed it. I repeated this several times and she stood well. Then I put the collar on and had her follow me about the round pen, over the plastic sheet doing turns and stops. Then I did the same maneuvers with the harness. I approached her with the harness, shook it and backed off.

Next, I touched her side, legs and neck with the harness, and then backed away. She accepted this test well. Next I put the harness over her back and removed several times. Finally I harnessed her with the collar and had her stand. I was real careful to get the harness on her securely so it could not fall part ways off and create a negative experience. After I had her stand for a while, I tried to get her to follow me about the pen. Initially, she didn’t want to move because she didn’t fully understand what was on her back, so I gently drover her with the PBOS. After she figured it out she followed me around the pen no problem. I left her with the harness on for about 30 minutes and removed.

Called it good for the day.

Hello from Wisconsin

From Theresa Burns, Mineral Point, WI:
This blog is a great idea for us to read, learn, keep in touch and contribute. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Doc. I also get inspired knowing others are working with horses and dealing with issues and looking for comments.

I read the post about the mare not standing still when she is pulling the stoneboat. It reminded me of last May when we were at your ranch cleaning up after the fire. We were using one of your Suffolk Punch mares to move some huge stones and other items that we could put on a stone boat sled. She was getting antsy, anticipating and not standing still. At first one of us stood at her head and helped her stand. You were behind her and you began rubbing her rump and talking to her, encouraging her to relax and wait. When she was getting the idea the person at the head left. But when we repositioned her for another load, you were quick to talk softly to her and rub her rump.

If she moved you asked her to return to her standing spot. She learned to relax and wait. I so appreciated watching you and your patience. It is not about getting the job done, it is about how the horse and human work together. In the beginning of a horse’s training it is so important to take the time in the beginning to establish the foundation. Then we you get out to do work it goes much smoothly.

When I work with young horses on the halter and lead, I teach them that to rub is to stop and relax. I expect them to move away from pressure either steady or rythmical and to stop moving when I rub them. It is their reward, reassurance and they learn to relax and take it in. It makes the next steps adjusting to the harness, poles and or shafts easier for them to accept. Another really important response is to put their head down when you touch the pole or put downward pressure on the halter. For them to know that makes bridling so much easier. After they know what is expected it takes so little pressure for them to repond. Of course, I word of praise and a rub helps too.

I have attached a couple of pictures from the cleanup event.

I am from SW Wisconsin, where the temps have been too cold to train horses and where the horses are getting bored and walking over the hot wire. We had to plow snow along the fence to make it harder for them to step over. The days are getting longer and hope to hook up my new stone boat sled for training my youngest horse.


Round pen question

I have a round pen question for you. I have received your latest video about round pen work. I haven’t sat down to watch it yet but look forward to doing so. My round pen instruction and experience is rather low, but I have used it with several horses in the past 3 years. I have been having a recurring reaction from working stallions in the round pen and I wonder if you seen anything like this or if you feel I am talking incorrectly to this gender group of horses.

I know horse’s body language does not lie but, I continue to have a reaction from Stallions that puzzles me. We work the entire process from the beginning as described in Monty Roberts’ book called “From My hand to yours” The stallions exhibit the normal progression of language. Ear locked on, tipping the head in, licking lips, dropping the head while moving. As I pull in my “claws” and rotate my shoulder to invite them in, and they almost freeze in their tracks and begin sniffing the ground and nearby manure piles. Even passing back and forth in front of them, rotating my back to them does not seem to get any attention. I have not been able to get any Join up type of response.

Is there a step I’m missing? Do stallions have a different way of interpreting the rotating shoulder since they usually work from the back of the herd? It does seem that, even though I don’t get a true join up type of response, the stallions are showing increased respect and are paying close attention in work after our round pen time. I’m puzzled. Do you have any suggestions? Is there a particular pattern in stallions that I just do not have enough experience with to be able to identify?

Hope to hear from you on this one. I’ll get time watch the videos real soon.

Steve Wood

Overcoming confidence and noise issues by Walter Bernard, Dorena OR

Overcoming confidence and noise issues
A blog by Walt Bernard, Dorena OR

This blog or log of horse activities on our farm was created out a need to gain and share advice and information from Doug Hammill about horse behavior issues on our farm, while at the same time sharing his advice with others. Over the years that I have known and observed Doug in seminars, workshops, and general conversation about the equine mind, I have been impressed with his training and problem solving abilities of the working horse. His non-judgmental and non confrontational approach puts both horses and humans at ease and the best learning comes in times of low stress for the animal and human involved.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had a situation where “it seemed like a good idea at the time” or “how could I do this better.” I have been working horses now for 12 years and only am now seeing the beginnings of what is possible, as you will see from this blog. Hopefully, we can all learn and help each other thru our real life experiences as posted here. And by the way, my wife and I are always available for visits or calls about horses.

We have 5 draft horses: Nugget, a 7 yr old Belgian/Percheron cross; Ray, an 11 yr old Belgian; Tom, a 4 yr old Belgian; Jerry a 3 yr old Belgian; and Ruby, a 19 Belgian/Percheron cross. We use these horses on our farm of 70 acres, comprised of 7 acres of market garden, hay and grain ground, woodlot and pasture. The initial entries here are from memory and may not be perfectly accurate but once you begin to see dates things are true to chronological order. For an entry about a particular horse, I enter their name, as each horse has different individual needs.

The horse I have been working with most is Nugget. He has confidence issues and issues with noise behind him. He was trained on the farm, and has been on disc, harrow, mower, and manure spreader. He will work single or as a team, and I have worked him a fair amount three abreast.

I had a run with him in the fall on a work sled pulling single. He had been on the sled before but it had been about a year. I had hitched him and we drove out and he jogged along at a human fast walk pace. We were headed towards the barn when the sled hit some rocks and the metal runner on rock noise set him to a run. At that point, I should have said whoa, but if I remember correctly, I just turned him into the field away from the barn and used line pressure release to get him down to a walk.

We stood for a bit and I talked to him, then set out at a walk away from the barn, but when we came around and headed for home, the same thing happened. I turned him from the barn but wound up having to take him between a greenhouse and a fence that gradually narrowed to a 3 ft opening. He slowed down to a slow trot, I talked to him and when he came to the opening, he hesitated, and then went thru the opening. The sled stuck and I said whoa. Then I let him stand for about 5 minutes and unhitched him. I ground drove him back to the hitch rail, got an evener and immediately hitched him to a tire and pulled that around for about ½ hr. He was calm and walked the whole time. I should mention that I was never panicked myself during his run.

I hitched Nugget to the sled both single and with a team mate several times over the next two weeks both in a field and arena, and although he didn’t try to run on me he was definitely up on the bit, jogging along, would not stand well or try avoid being hitched to the sled, and would startle at noises while pulling but not standing. As I think back and compare him to other horses, he has always been nervous about noises and I think this experience put him over the edge. It’s interesting; a disc blade hitting some rocks doesn’t bother him but other sounds do, like the ring roller. Also, I think noises combined with vibration thru the tongue of a forecart may also contribute.

Anyway, I had decided that I was going to have to go back to the basics and beginnings of training to help this horse improve. It was coming on winter here anyway, so there was really no fieldwork to be done. About that time Doug Hammill paid a visit to our farm. When he worked with Nugget it was clear he needed additional groundwork. Doug demonstrated how controlling the horse’s movement is the foundation for an excellent and willing working horse. He gave me some very valuable tips on controlling the horses feet and movement using a lead rope. I began using these techniques with excellent results over the winter.

Per Doug’s suggestions I would halter Nugget and spend 15-60 minutes working on standing and space issues. You have the horse stand and control his foot movement with the lead rope. Initially, Nugget would take steps and try to move. I would keep him standing still, then go to a different place and repeat. Then I would drop the lead and walk around the horse, doing different things like picking up feet, and crawling underneath him. He got to where he would stand pretty well with this. I would take him to different areas of the farm to repeat the lesson, to expose him to different sounds, buildings, and equipment as a part of the lesson. I did this exercise 3-7 days a week all winter long as a single lesson, if I only had a few minutes, or as part of some driving work in a longer session. For example, a standard lesion starts with the lead rope work on standing, then I harness and repeat the lesion w/o bridle, then bridle and repeat lesion with lines and driving. Then I go on to whatever I will be doing, either fieldwork or lessons on things that are noisy.

At the end of the work I would repeat the standing in reverse order, i.e. with lines and ground driving, then lead rope, then without bridle, and always quit on a good note. The horse did generally well and eventually would do these ground exercises without a lead rope, as long as there was nothing to eat nearby!

From this base I began training to noisy things in my arena. I have used a large tire, a metal garbage can, and a variety if metal items. First I introduce the item to the horse, and lead him along while the item bounces around him. On occasion, I lead him while someone else drags the item behind him. With the garbage can, which makes a lot of noise, I then ground drove the horse while pulling the can myself. I then hooked a truck tire (about 100 lbs) with a single tree and drove him just with that. Then I added towing the garbage can myself, then actually tied the can to the tire and worked nugget that way. I should add that I used the tire to provide drag so as to prevent a lightweight thing like a garbage can from fouling the traces against his legs and causing too many sensations at once. He has adapted to this well.

Additionally, all winter I have been ground driving him single and as a team with Ray and on the forecart, to build confidence and introduce him to all kinds of stimuli. I spent a lot of time teaching them to stand, especially in front of the forecart, often for hours. After they stand in front of the forecart, repeatedly hitch and unhitch them without driving anywhere, to reinforce the concept that we don’t just drive off after the last trace is hooked. He has definitely improved in his standing patience, but will still take that testing step, especially when hitching for the first time that day At the end of work or lessons, I drive the horses to an area in front of my barn and have them stand awhile. Then we go to the rail to unharness.

Bits. I broke Nugget with an egg butt snaffle, and was working him in a leverage bit for the past few years. I had put him back in the snaffle during the summer for no specific reason I can remember. I had the run on the sled with him in the snaffle, so I went back to a leverage bit. I vary the lines from zero to maximum leverage depending on the horse.

3/27/08 I worked with Nugget today. Harnessed him in the arena. I did the usual standing exercises with a lead rope, then without. I could walk several feet from him and he would stand just fine. Then I bridled him and did the same thing. (total 20 min). Then hooked a single tree with grab hook and drove him about at a walk and stand exercise. (10 min). Then I hitched him to the sled and had him stand. He was definitely taking that testing step, but after a few minutes he would stand OK. I drove him a few feet and stopped, till he stood OK, and banged a rock around on the sled as described before. Then I drove him a few feet and just before stopping banged the rock on the sled and the horse stopped on his own!

I then had the horse stand for about 30 minutes. He would still “test” to see if he was on the bit, but when is was clear he was standing well, I did the reverse sequence of the opening of the lesson. After I unbridled him (not tied), I just clicked and he followed me to the gate. He stood while I opened the gate, followed me thru, stood while I closed it and followed me to a second gate and stood the same again. Then we went to the hitch rail, with out a lead rope.

3/29/08 Nugget I had him in the arena on the sled for two hrs or so. Started with standing exercises then drive and stand with a single tree, then on to the sled. He would stand well with and without the single tree, (not under load, but just the noise of the single tree). So I went on to the sled. Hitched to the sled, he wanted to trot, and jog along, but this settles down until the metal runners happen to hit a rock. This scares him and he picks up the tempo every time it happens to a degree. I try to go easy on the lines and then gradually use pressure release to work him back down to a slower pace and then whoa him. So at this point I have two issues. 1. He doesn’t want to stand—he tests the lines and hitch over and over to see if he can go. 2. The noise issue, which contributes to #1.

I let him stand as long as he will. If he steps out I kiss him up and we move out. Eventually, I get him worked down enough that he just stands for 15-30 minutes, even though he still was nervous about the noise from the sled runners, and I unhitch and go back to standing exercises. Then I took him back to the hitch rail for a few minutes. He thinks he is going to quit, but his demeanor is calm. I put the lines/bridle back on and ground drove him around the gravel drive in front of my barn. Then I drug the metal garbage can behind me (nothing hitched to the horse) He was jiggy initially but calmed down quickly and I called it good for the day.

3/29/08 Nugget. Had just a small bit of time today so I spent 30 minutes re-teaching nugget how to unload from my horse trailer. I don’t trailer much. He loads easily. In fact, this horse will follow me almost anywhere. For example, I once asked him to get up on my flat bed trailer. By golly, he put his front foot up and raised his front half up on there before I backed him off. Any way, he is too big to easily turn around in the trailer so he has to back out. I taught him to do this using a halter and two lead ropes. First, I just led him to the trailer and had him put his front feet in, then stood for a bit, then gave him the cue to back out. I did this a few times, and then he got all the way in. I backed him a few feet in the trailer while standing by his shoulder. Then I took two lead ropes and used them like driving lines to his halter, and gave him the back command. A little bit at a time he worked his way back, then forward, then finally went for it and got out. I did this a few times then quit. I thought it was interesting that he would not back all the way out with me at his shoulder, but would do it when I was behind him.

4/2/08 Nugget. I took Nugget and did the usual standing and ground driving today followed by an hour of heavy pulling. I have a loader tire that weighs approx 6-700 lbs. I built a seat in it and hitch to it with a grab hook. It’s a good pull for him. The objective was two fold: to get him to a good stand, and to get a good pulling walk instead of a jog/trot.
This was the first time I hitched him single to it, and it makes a funny and different “noise”. First I hitched him and had him stand, then I did the 1, 3, 5 step start I read about in the SFJ; i.e. I had him pull 1 step, then 3 steps etc. He was nervous initially, but responded to pressure release, (and the weight). I let him go a few yards and had him stand. He likes to jog and my ultimate goal is a nice pulling walk, but I settled for the slow jog initially. We went 20-50 yards and stopped and stood. He did well on the standing and after a while was pulling at a good pace. I drove him back to the barn, had him stand for a while, then unhitched and stood some more. Then ground drove him around to paddock back to the tire and made him stand there. I then hung up the lines, unbridled him standing untied, kissed him up and walked to the hitch rail with the horse following.

4/10/08 Nugget. Just ground drove him in straight bar bit all around the property and near our new sow. He stood well. Then pulled a metal garbage can around for a while and he walked well. Unbridled him kissed him up and he followed me to the hitching rail.

4/12/08 Nugget and Ray. I took them out on the road in the forecart for about 2 hrs. When I was hitching Ray stood very well, but Nugget was taking that testing step he does. He didn’t walk off however, and once hitched both horses stood well. I drove them for about 1.5 hr stopping intermittently and both stood well (85 degrees and humid, I might add). When I got home I had them stand and re-hitched them to the cart several times before quitting. Both horses stood well.

4/14/08 after a few minutes of basic groundwork, I drove Nugget out to where we have a new sow. He’s never seen a pig so he was really checking it out. I approached until the sow had his attention the stood for a while. Before he wanted to move out, I kissed him up and drove him away from the pig several yards and had him stand. Then I repeated this several times, each time going closer to the sow. After I was within about 20 ft, I was satisfied and went on to do other training lessons.

4/15/08 Finally, the ground was just dry enough to do a bit of fieldwork. After a few minutes of groundwork, I did about two hours of spring tooth work in our annual crop area. He worked, stood, and walked well. Kris hitched Ray single to a forecart and rolled the harrowed areas afterwards. I led Nugget behind, beside, and in front of the roller to desensitize him to it.

4/16/08 Nugget. Ground drove in stormy weather.

4/17/08 Nugget. Ground drive tire, garbage can etc.

4/20/08 Nugget. Kris and I cultivated several 150x20ft plastic covered hoop houses with a single row cultivator, using Nugget. I did an initial short groundwork session and then we hitched him and went to work. It was a day of fast changing weather, with sudden 20 mph wind, sun, and then and hail/heavy rain. The horse tolerated the noise and plastic blowing about fairly well. I did half the work with a twisted wire snaffle and half the work with his usual leverage bit. In comparing the two, I used fairly light pressure release with both bits. Both Kris and I thought that the horse was quieter with the bar leverage bit. He tossed his head more with the twisted wire bit and was less responsive to turn or whoa cues. I wonder if Doug would care to comment on this.

4/23/08 Nugget. Basic groundwork

4/24/08 Doug Hammill visits. We had a great opportunity to have Doug visit our farm and give us help with our horses. We spent the morning working with nugget then Nugget and Ray. Carrie Jones was here as well. I showed Doug what I had been working on with Nugget then we went on to challenge him with new stimuli and challenges, including pulling the ring roller and lime spreader behind the forecart. Here is a summary of the things I took away from the day.
Having an experienced teamster such as Doug look over what you are doing is extremely educational and beneficial.

  1. Doug confirmed that some of the techniques I had been doing were correct and working. This is a huge boost in my confidence, especially since I often train alone or with Kris. There is no comparison to an on site real time consult.
  2. I learned some finer techniques in handling the lines. For example, I had been using pressure release equally firmly with each line. Doug taught me to use the direct line with longer strokes compared to the crosscheck line when ‘checking’ the faster jiggy horse back. I had also not generally been using as much pressure release stroke length as Doug suggested. We also used early indicators that we were going to stop, by pumping the lines together a few times before giving the whoa. Using this technique, when I could remember to, had the horses about stopped when I gave the command. On starting horses, Doug suggested I gain more bit contact than I was using; Doug demonstrated by gathering in equal tension about to the amount that the horses would be thinking about backing then give the command to go. After a few times the horses had the association and were ready to start together.
  3. We exposed Nugget to new sounds in a novel way that had not occurred to me but after doing, it makes perfect sense. Doug suggested we associate a new sound or noise with one the horse is accustomed to. So, first we pulled the garbage can behind the forecart, and then we hitched the ring roller to the forecart and tied the garbage can behind the roller. In my mind, the change in his response was remarkable. The last time Nugget and Ray were on the ring roller, he never stopped jigging. This time both horses walked out as if it were nothing! The next step was to just pull the roller without the garbage can and they did well except for some barn-sour behavior.
  4. I think the biggest behavior problem in Nugget that day would actually be that he was ‘barn sour.’ He was more likely to bunch up in the rear and jig when we were headed towards the barn. (In retrospect, when I had the run last fall, he only ran towards the barn). With Doug, we used line pressure release to work him down to a walk, then immediately stop them and let them stand until they showed signs of a relaxed composure, such as dropping their heads, less fidgeting around, taking deep breaths, relaxed muscle tone, etc. Then we would drive them further along. If they exhibited barn sour behavior, Doug suggested some other options to deal with the problem including turning away from the barn, backing up, creating work for the horses back at the barn, and encouraging ‘standing sites’ away from the barn where the horses are used to standing for long periods of time. A hitch rail near equipment shed would be a good example of this.

After we finished up at my place we headed up to watch Doug work with Carrie Jones’ team and Lise Hube’s horses.

Thanks for a great day Doug!