Small Farmer’s Journal 2003 Teamster’s Roundtable Part 1
Small Farmer’s Journal 2003 Teamster’s Roundtable Part 1
Panelists: C. D. “Mac” McIntosh, Christina Dahl-Sesby, Tom Triplett, Lisa Hubbe, Eric Nordell
Moderators: John Erskine, Doug “Doc” Hammill, Lynn Miller
photographs by Kristi Gilman-Miller
QUESTION: Is there a better gender for a work horse? Mares versus geldings versus stallions?
DOUG HAMMILL: That depends to a large degree on the person and how they handle their horses and what kind of performance they expect and condition their horses to give then it does the gender. There’s no doubt that sometimes when the mares are in estrous, they’re not as attentive or their mind will go out in other directions but it certainly is something that can be managed. They can be taught to pay attention and do their job in spite of that and the same way with stallions.
When we were farming on a larger scale, we worked our stallion, we worked our stallion with mares, and we worked our stallion with mares that were in heat and bred them at night and worked with them during the day. So it can certainly be done but I think it depends on the person and how well they make the horses pay attention, mind and do their job.
MAC MCINTOSH: I agree with Doc. If you’re going to work stallions or you’re going work mares versus geldings, the geldings would be easier on the whole because they are going to be steadier mentally. They’re not going to have days when, like Doc says, times when they take a little extra attention. The stallion always takes attention and that’s the only difference that I see. The gelding will give you a little more slack, mares need a certain amount of attention, stallions need attention all the time. But you can work any of them, anywhere, any time if you’re willing to put forward the effort on your side.
TOM TRIPLETT: I have something to add to the stallion part of it, my dad worked an original (cryptorchid) and a stallion together for years and it was one of the finest teams that there was in the country. They worked through, they never fought or anything, they were all business. But he used them day after day. It wasn’t just a once a month deal. They were together all the time. They didn’t fight, they didn’t get into any trouble at all. I’ve seen him work a stallion with a gelding, I’ve seen him work a stallion with a mare. I had a stallion that I worked and he worked fine but I used him on the pole. I didn’t use him up on the lead and I had no problem with him. I think it’s a lot in how you handle them.
LYNN MILLER: What we would like to do is gradually, over the course of the next several hours, is to be giving you a little bit of background information about who each of our distinguished panel members are. The man that just spoke to you, I think, should be introduced by his stepson, Doug Hammill.
DOUG HAMMILL: Well, Tom Triplett is a man who I have known for a long, long time. I took a horse packing class at the Flathead Valley Community College when I first got to Montana. Tom was teaching that class. Tom grew up in tight knit family in Montana. His parents moved from Missouri to Oklahoma in horsedrawn wagons, back to Missouri later and then to Montana. Just about four years before you were born, they moved from eastern Montana where they homesteaded to northwest Montana to the Flathead Valley with horsedrawn wagons. Did your dad ever drive a car or have a car?
TOM: Well, yes, but it didn’t work out for him.
DOUG: I just knew his dad barely when he was in his 90’s when I first met Tom. He grew up in a family that went everywhere on horses. Then most of his life was spent either driving or riding horses. He packed mules for the Forest Service for 30 years or so. Had an outfitting business after that. His whole life was horses. He’s one of my greatest teachers and had the good sense here just a couple of years ago to marry my mother.
LYNN: Is there someone here that would like to ask a question that ties in something you’ve heard relative to working mares, geldings, and stallions.
AUDIENCE: We’ve got some mares that we breed and we manage to have a whole fleet of fillies and they are stinky. They are mares that have stinky behavior. When we’re hitching up one of the young mares, I’m still seeing some of that stinky behavior even though I have her with my most solid, big, stout, strong gelding at her side. So is this a matter of her maturing or an issue of dominance or what?
JOHN ERSKINE: Sounds to me like a little bit of an attitude, you’re going to have to work on her attitude.
MAC: I think too that all of us have had that experience one time or another. I used to have a team of mares, a mother and a daughter, and they weren’t big horses but we worked them on the mowing machine. They got along just fine together but you put them with another horse and they were cranky with that horse. So what we did with them was we turned them all out together and said let’s find out who was boss and then when they established a pecking order then things smoothed out. The other thing that helped was we mowed a lot of hay with them. Whenever you get a few wet collar pads on them, it makes a whole lot of difference in attitude. They figure out there’s something else to do besides pick on each other.
TOM: I was always taught, that work doesn’t hurt them. Get them tired but don’t keep them tired. Maybe if you just give them a little more work, then they might not act up.
DOUG: Could you give me an example of something she does?
AUDIENCE: It’s pretty typical, stinky mare behavior. One of the things that we have done is put her in with the horse that she will be working with and he is our most dominant horse in the herd. And so he is the trainer and nailing her every time she reaches around.
DOUG: Has she reached around and tried to bite him or just threatened?
AUDIENCE: No, just threatened with her attitude.
DOUG: I had a lady down at a workshop in Colorado a year or two ago that had a real nice Morgan mare and this lady was getting the horse ready in the morning. It was tied to the horse trailer and she was grooming it and getting the harness on it and so forth. This mare was in a new place, new horses around, lots of stuff going on. The mare was kind of going like this. Just kind of flinching a lot. I wish I could remember the lady’s name but I can’t right at the moment. Anyway, she turned to somebody and said, she can flinch all she wants as long as she doesn’t move her feet. That was her rule. The flinching didn’t hurt anything. She didn’t react to it, she didn’t try to get the mare to stop and keep her from being who she was and how she needed to be. But her standard was the mare can’t move her feet for my safety and for the level of discipline that we need to perform well. She can flinch all she wants, but she can’t move her feet.
I have a mare that once in a while will reach over and nip her partner. She can look sour at her partner all she wants as long as she’s doing her job, as long as she isn’t throwing her head over all the time and affecting my ability to maneuver and do what I want with the lines. But if she gets her head over too far towards him or she actually tries to bite, that’s when I intercede. Giving them some freedom to be who they are, be a horse, sour looks don’t hurt us. It’s kind of like a kid. You can stick your tongue out at your brother but you can’t hit him. So maybe by doing that, setting a boundary, gives her the ability to be a sound looker but not a sound actor will give her some space and maybe you might get some improvement on the big stuff if you don’t worry about the little stuff.
AUDIENCE: What discipline did you use on that mare? Because I’ve got the same situation when they first start up.
DOUG: To start out with any young horse, when I start driving, I use a jockey stick and that teaches them without me having to do anything with the lines, without me having to pull their head back over, or be awake enough all the time to be ready and on the trigger when they do it, keeps her neck where I want. So they start out right at the beginning keeping their head in position. If I don’t have my jockey stick and they’ve been good for the last 2 or 3 weeks and all of a sudden they try it today, then I’m going to set a boundary. Say that the horse that’s going to bite is on the right side, the other one’s on the left side, I should be on those lines enough and awake enough that if that horse goes like this, I have got contact with the right line and I can just bring their head back. They determine how much force I’m going to use. If they are really fighting to get over there, I’m going to use comparable force to keep them from getting over. They’ll tell you ahead of time, they just don’t go like that, they just don’t dive over out of a relaxed state. The quicker you counter them, just set a boundary and let them know that you’re awake and you’re going to decide where their head is and what they do with it, not them.
JOHN: Like Doc was saying, if you can perceive that this is going to happen, if you are tuned into your team and you can perceive that this is going to happen, a lot of times all you have to say is, “Halt.”
AUDIENCE: I was just interested in your comments on working this horse that she has, a mare versus a dominant gelding. It seems to me that a mare might be more dominant in a herd.
LYNN: I prefer working mares. Mares or geldings. In a dominance situation it’s not a simple word for me in my experience. Using as an example, I have a pair of senior mares, Cali and Lana. Lana is the one that thinks and acts like she is dominant. Cali, on the other hand, is very quiet and does what she needs to do but everybody checks with Cali first. She’ll never kick, she’ll never bite, but when she walks through that herd everybody very slowly gets out of the way. You don’t see it in her head, you don’t see it in her action but when Lana comes through it’s “get out of my way.” She is kicking and biting and snorting, that’s her personality. Now I have a gelding who thinks he’s the herd sire. Big Ben prances around and puts on a great show. For show purposes, he’s the dominant one, for nastiness, Lana’s the dominant one. But I have this quiet mare, Cali, who is just straight ahead. You never see her act up, she doesn’t kick at anything, and she doesn’t put up with any nonsense. If I’m going to pick one of those three horses to put a new filly with, I’m going to pick Cali. Because she communicates in ways that I can’t even understand even with all my experience. I can bring a horse to her and they just go, “okay.” I can bring a horse to Ben, who thinks he’s a stallion and depending on what horse it is they are going to halt instantly. It makes a difference, if you have the luxury of a lot of animals, to be able to pick and choose. I would not want to take the one that is overtly aggressive in that situation because I don’t know exactly what I would be teaching that filly which is hitched along side. I would much rather that she was affected by a behavior like Cali’s.
TOM: My brother had two females, full sisters, just a year apart. The youngest one from the time she was just not very old, she was ornery and mean. They looked alike, they were just perfect, they loved to work. The one that was nice did everything because she wanted to. The other one did it because she had to. I put them on with my big bunch of horses and I used them and the one that was ornery, she was the one that was going to whip that whole bunch, well that was like getting in with a bunch of cannibals because they worked her over her something terrible. She ended up at the bottom of the totem pole. The other little mare never fought and she ended up the leader of the bunch. So it’s just a difference in personalities.
DOUG: If you want a good explanation of dominance and the fact that it isn’t a simple linear pecking order, there’s a book called, “Horse Watch,” by Desmond Morris. “Horse Watch” is not only about dominance but all kinds of observations on horses and so forth. It’s a great book. He talks in there about dominance not being a simple linear pecking order like we thought it was for so many years. But being a much more complex thing where often times the context of the situation and affiliation of friendships between horses will create variations in the dominance pattern. Another good one is Mark Roshid has a book called “Horses Never Lie.” In there Mark talks about what he has labeled the passive leader which is what Cali would be, Lynn, perhaps not a leader who rules by force and meanness but ones who just seem to make good choices and has a type of presence that other horses choose to respect and follow as a leader.
QUESTION: Why would you have chosen teams over a single for a small farm operation where most of the work is row crop?
LISE HUBBE: I learned how to drive a team first and I have a team. In my own development as a teamster and with these particular two horses I haven’t yet driven them singly. I’m just now at the beginning of taking them apart and working them individually. All the equipment that I got initially was set up for working a team so that kind of made my choice for me.
LYNN: Share with us Lise a little bit about your story. When did you start working horses, 3 or 4 years ago?
LISE: I bought my team almost five years ago, March 21st it’ll be five years.
LYNN: And give us a sense of the scale of what you do with your horses.
LISE: We have 55 cultivatable acres and we work the horses doing four acre market garden. I do that ground exclusively with the horses. I’ve got 15 acres that I raise oat hay with and so far I’ve done the plowing and discing of that ground with the tractor and I do the mowing and raking of the hay with the horses and a neighbor has done the baling. I have a new planting of pasture, 30 acres of pasture and I use the horses to fertilize that. So some of the ground I do exclusively with the horses and some I do partially and my vision is over the next several years to increase the number of horses I have in order to farm the whole place with horses.
LYNN: You have three horses, correct?
LISE: Yes, I have two working mares and an eight month old filly.
LYNN: Is she stinky?
LISE: She’s not. She’s sweet.
LYNN: I’m going to put Eric on the spot because the question was somewhat directed to him.
ERIC NORDELL: I guess the short answer for us was just equipment availability. Most everything that we could find was set up for two horses with the exception of the walk behind cultivator which is usually used with one. We find that when we go to be field, we sometimes hook to five or six different implements. We’re talking plows, harrow, disc, cultivator so on. It’s a little bit unhandy to take one horse back to the barn so you have one horse for cultivating. So basically we do everything with two horses just for simplicity sake.
LYNN: Do you have an observation about whether or not what you’re doing, the scale of it, given somebody wanted to do some modifications or customizing of the implements, could they do it with one?
ERIC: Well, certainly one horse would work. It’s not a question of too many acres for one horse. It might be like Tom said that it’s not the gender of horse, if you want to do it with one horse, you could figure out how to do it. Certainly in Europe a lot of the farming is done with the single horse. I don’t see why not.
MAC: I think there’s a place for both. If I’m skidding in the woods and there’s a lot of trees, real thick, I prefer one horse. If you’re cultivating maybe corn where the rows are close together, one horse works really good there. And on a one-horse cart I’d definitely want one horse on it.
AUDIENCE: I have limited experience compared to you guys but it’s my observation that sometimes it’s nice to have a team, they seem to calm each other, support each other. Other times doing the single work using a cultivator, our beds are too tall or our plants are too tall, it’s easier to take one horse in to do that. For me it’s easier to drive two horses than one horse. If I’m skidding, we do some logging and I’m skidding in the woods, I’ve got one horse that is more nervous than the other, I have to watch her all the time when she is single. If something scared her, she could turn around a lot quicker than two horses and get in a situation where you’re less in control. Two horses it’s a lot harder to turn and they depend on each other. For skidding logs and doing logging demonstrations, I’d rather have two horses in those situations because they seen to psychologically support each other better and easier to handle.
AUDIENCE: Is there a problem with socialization just having one horse on the place?
LYNN: There are a lot of answers to that. One personal example, about 30 years ago I had a team of Shire Percheron cross horses that had spent their entire life together, Bud and Dick. Bud died which was rather tragic but it was even more or equally tragic what happened to Dick. This horse had a bond with his half-brother. They were 15 years old when I got them and I only had them for two years. About six months after Bud had died, even though I had other horses, I had four horses at the time, Dick would, wherever he was, he would go off and stand with his head and nose pointed up and nicker forever. He was totally worthless and heartless, and by worthless I mean not because he was unwilling but because it was like he was exhausted and he was drunk. He was lost. And it happened just bang, within 24 hours after Bud was gone, he was a completely different horse. He had a relatively short life span after that. He slipped into this extreme case of depression. I have also known horses that I’ve brought into my herd that their whole life has been as a single. Brought them into the herd and they were very easy to deal with singly but they had various issues when they were forced to socialize and how they evolved with that. One of them did very well with the transition, the other one I’m thinking about never really joined up.
DOUG: If you’ve got a team and you’ve got two horses and you do need to do something single, you can always split one off to do that. If you’ve just got one and you have a need for a team you’re limited to just a single horse. Or if your horse goes lame or gets sick and can’t go to work and you’ve got stuff that really needs to be done you could probably modify or jeririg something to at least continue to do some of your work with a single horse if one was down and you didn’t have a spare. As far as your question, Joe, horses are herd animals, there’s security and comfort in the group. So it’s certainly my preference not to have to keep a horse alone for an extended period of time just because it’s so unnatural. They can do it, they’ll get by, they’ll be all right, but they certainly do the best if they have company.
TOM: Sometimes I’ve found that if you only have the one horse, he will bond with you a lot of times where he wouldn’t otherwise. He likes your company. If you have that certain type of horse, sometimes just take him away from the others and keep him with you for awhile. It helps. I’m great for keeping two together.
MAC: I think it’s kind of interesting, we used to have a neighbor that had one horse. He also had five milk cows. The horse grew up thinking he was a milk cow because he was really excited whenever he had to leave that bunch of cows. As long as he could see them he mowed his hay, they had a single horse mowing machine, and he plowed with a single horse and so forth. I’m not sure why they had the single horse. He’d count evidently too, because if there was a cow missing he was pretty excited. He’d walked up and down the fence and around and around and so forth. I don’t think there are too many horses that feel that way though.
We do it a little bit different again logging and skidding in the hills, sometimes if we’re pulling out poles it’s a lot easier to take one single horse, you don’t have to take up as much trail and he’ll work for you faster. You can probably take five or six poles each time. The other thing is that you can stack them pretty well, I don’t know how many of you have done this, but with the big horses, especially if they have big enough feet, you bring your poles out and you can actually bring them right up on the stack with your horse just by dragging them right on top.
We used to pull a ditcher with our single horse. We sometimes work them as a three. If you have a fantail ditcher you can put the third horse down in the ditch and a horse up on each bank and it works real nice. You have plenty of power that way to drag the ditcher through the ditch. That works pretty neat. Then in the spring lots of time, I have a three section harrow that I do a lot of things with, and with three horses, especially if I have a colt that I like to work, I put that one in the middle and they learn more from a horse on each side than they do from me actually. I shouldn’t admit that but it’s true.
LYNN: Well, I’d like to stop right there while we’re listening to Mac and digress a little bit and tell you a story of Mac and his family. They raise Belgian horses here in Redmond. Mac has the unusual distinction of probably having married an awful lot of teamsters. He’s a local minister also. Mac, how many horses to you have?
MAC: We have 10 Belgians.
LYNN: They travel with a 6 or 8 horse hitch showing around the state.
MAC: We don’t go to State Fair anymore. I drive for Gerry and Jenny Anders too, their Clydesdale horses.
LYNN: I was talking to his son Mike who was telling me he was thrown off a colt and broke his wrist. It’s been healing up. We were talking on the phone and I asked him about his grip and whether he was going to be able to hold the lines on the 8. He was laughing and he said, Yes, I was just talking to the nurse and doctor about that and they mentioned the grip in my hand that had the broken wrist and they said wow it’s 70 pounds. So they measured his good hand and it was 170. The doctor thought the 70 pounds was pretty doggone good till he measured what he had in his good hand. The McIntosh family has been working with horses for how long?
MAC: We got a car when I was 11.
LYNN: Did you always live in Redmond?
MAC: No, I came from Wyoming. I left home when I was 15. I stayed with a cousin down in Culver and went to high school. But we always went home and helped Dad put up the hay. He put hay up with horses. He never had a tractor in his whole lifetime. There wasn’t too many people who wanted to drive horses in those days because everybody was driving tractors. So my brother and I, no matter where we were, we tried to get home to help put up the hay. In Wyoming you only got one crop of hay.
LYNN: Maybe I’m remembering this wrong, but I believe Mike was telling me that your experience in Montana was with the ‘beaver slides’.
MAC: Well, we called them slide stackers. Beaver slides have a cable that pulls the hay up and slide stackers have a big long pole with rollers on it that pushes the hay up. They were a little bit different but basically the same idea.
JOHN: About working one horse, you can do anything you want with one horse. It’ll take more time and it takes a little more effort. It’s easier to work two horses because as you say, they support each other, they both have to get their act together to do one thing. One horse, all he has to do is think about it and do it. So you have to be a little more attuned to the single horse. As far as having just one horse and that’s it, never forget that when you’re around that horse you’re part of his herd. So if you have one horse you better be part of the herd. In other words don’t go away and leave him for two weeks. You’ve got to mess with it everyday. You have to support it but you can do anything you want with one horse.
LYNN: Christina, do you work a single horse a lot?
CHRISTINA DAHL-SESBY: You know, I really haven’t worked with one. We use one in the carriage business.
LYNN: Are your single horses part of a herd situation. They have that benefit when you go home?
CHRISTINA: Yes, they definitely have. On our carriage we use a single horse but we do have a wagonette and a hayride wagon which we can use a team or three abreast. Our single horse does go back with the herd.
LYNN: That single horse or horses that you use in the carriage business, is it one horse that you’re using predominantly as a single or are your using several singles?
CHRISTINA: No, I just have one single.
LYNN: Is that one single then part of a team?
CHRISTINA: Yes. We just have two mares that we’re really working and I just take one mare for the carriage. I prefer to work two, it’s easier somehow or another.
LYNN: Even in a public setting?
CHRISTINA: Yes. There’s something about working two that seems to work better. Although I haven’t really had any problem in the carriage company doing weddings and that sort of thing where we get all sorts of people doing crazy things around the horses. The horse that we’ve used on the carriage has been very, very reliable. In that particular setting, a single horse works very well.
LYNN: It’s been my experience that working a single, if you’re going on a sliding scale of 10, working a single has a potential degree of difficulty of 10. Working two has a potential degree of difficulty of a 5. Working 3 has a potential degree of difficulty of about 3 and it stays there up until you get to odd configurations like a tandem, random or unicorn, then they can throw that scale out completely.
AUDIENCE: I’m going to second guess the person who is asking the question but perhaps they’re thinking about an economic question working a small acreage, more horses, and more expenses than fewer horses. I would just make the comment that it can be a false economy depending on just the number of horses that you think you need because, as Doc pointed out, horses do get sick and if your business is dependent on a horse at a particular time and that horse is now out for two, three or four weeks, that’s disastrous to a small business. Plus the versatility that more horses give you to do different jobs. More horses will cost more as an initial expense but make more sense economically.
AUDIENCE: I knew this man and he wasn’t your average fellow but he never had any horses of his own. He always drove Umatilla Indian Reservation horses and he told me that you can’t live with one horse because you’ll tear up everything you own. Two horses is a little better but if you have four horses, you’ve got four individual minds working there, they’re easier to control because they rely on each other and not one of them will go in one direction so you can get a day’s work done. It goes back to what we were saying, it’s easier to work four than one or two because the minds are all in the same direction.
DOUG: I tend to agree that horses as a larger group tend to synchronize themselves and get together. But also I have seen a lot of people get in trouble going to, particularly, four horses strung out before they have the skill level to deal with when things weren’t going well, when all four horses wanted to do something different or something like that. And I actually personally got into trouble trying to graduate to four strung out before I had the skill I should have had driving one or two or three abreast or something like that. So I had a couple of wrecks that I wouldn’t have had if I had taken the time and patience to get my skill level up with a team, two, three abreast. I’m talking about having been driving teams for a significant length of time when I ran into my problems and I’ve seen other people also. So going from a team to three abreast or four abreast is a much smaller step in graduation than going to a strung out. It makes a difference too whether your bucking back and tying in the lead horse or whether you’re trying to drive with four lines.
JOHN: Doc did the right thing though, he hooked a 4 up instead of a tandem.
AUDIENCE: What is strung out?
DOUG: The term strung out comes from the fact that you have to be. You string them out in pairs or threes or whatever, string them out as far as you need to get the horse power for the job you’re doing. If you start getting them strung out one ahead of another and also width, if you get more than two abreast, two side by side and more than one deep, then you’re getting into what was sometimes called in the old days as a bunch hitch. Then the abreast is side by side so those are the three terms. String hitch are strung out, a bunch, and abreast.
AUDIENCE: I’m just curious. How much line would be needed in driving six horses strung out? Not that I would do it but it just looks so complex that I would just like to hear how you handle it.
MAC: The lead line would be an additional 12 feet. On the average you run 3-4 feet from your leaders on back and then your leaders stay pretty much the same in your hands so you have to pull a lot of line through your hands.
AUDIENCE: How do you pick your leaders?
MAC: The leaders are generally the biggest and then you pick the lighter horses for your team. Back in Wyoming all the teams that I can remember had mares in the lead. Generally you pick your fastest horses to put in the lead because they have to be a little quicker, they have to go a lot farther when you’re going around corners are on the switchbacks. And then the swing horses have to be pretty sharp horses because they have to jump across the chain. You just yell “up” and whatever that horses name was and they jump across the chain and pull sideways with the wagon and cut across the switchback. And you yell “up” and they jump back across it. I don’t know how they train the horses to do that. When I was a kid I asked a lot of questions but I didn’t ask a lot of the right ones. On the combines we had a can of pebbles and so you were supposed to yell the horse’s names and then hit him with a pebble. The only problem was sometimes the horse behind him threw his head up. He got a new name right away.
Discussion and demonstration on how to hold lines ensued…
AUDIENCE: Do they get slick when they’re wet, those beta lines?
MAC: There is no regular treatment of the beta lines, you just have to keep them clean. If you just take just regular dish soap it works the best.
AUDIENCE: I was watching this guy drive eight up strung out and they were going into an arena and he drove the first two, I guess he made the turn too tight, his first two teams were out the gate and he was at 90 degrees. He stopped them because he wasn’t going to make the turn and he backed the two lead teams up and it looked like he never moved his hands. I was so impressed with that. I was just wondering, was he just talking to the horses, telling them to back up? What was going on there?
MAC: You really want horses that you can talk Gee and Haw to. It works out pretty good. There are a lot of people that do not move their hands on the lines. I know a guy that drives with his hands in one place on the lines but he can’t take them around pylons because our pylons are too tight. So he does a little bit different deal. He reaches underneath and grabs that lead horse and brings that horse around and then goes back to where he was on the lines. So there are a lot of little tricks like that.
to be continued…