Small Farmer’s Journal 2003 Teamster’s Roundtable Part 2
Last issue we ran the first part of this tape transcription from our public panel discussion. It is quite a challenge to understand all the scratches, coughs, echos and nuances from a tape recording. We apparently made a few “transcription errors”, some of which were caught later, and for which we beg forgiveness.
I wish we could promise you that there are no errors in the text below. I can’t. I CAN promise you that there ARE errors in the text below and it is your job to find them. LRM
Small Farmer’s Journal 2003 Teamster’s Roundtable Part 2
Panelists: C. D. “Mac” McIntosh, Christina Dahl-Sesby, Tom Triplett, Lisa Hubbe, Eric Nordell
Moderators: John Erskine, Doug “Doc” Hammill, Lynn Miller
LYNN: It is possible to have your animals strung out (4, 6, 8) and only have two lines. So you have a team line that comes like this (to the lead team) and yet no lines on the wheelers. Instead what you have is a tie in chain and a forked three point line hooked to halter rings and back to the lead bar or chain. This requires an equalizing double-tree set up to a lead bar or preferably a chain to the lead double-tree so there is an equalizing effect. All animals have to pull equal. There’s an equalizer with this and there are a variety of different ways of doing that. Basically the leaders step forward and pull along the bar or chain and literally pull these horses back for an equalizing effect. So they would take a buck back rope on this horse and attach it to this lead bar or chain.
AUDIENCE: From the halter or the bit?
LYNN: There are various opinions about this. I hook from the very bottom of the halter but you can put it on the bit. What happens here is that you’ve allowed the dynamics of the pull to equalize and control the horses. When the leaders turn, these animals behind must follow. If they stop, they have to stop. Otherwise they pull the entire load on their noses or mouths. They can’t go when you stop these guys. When they go, they have to go. So you don’t need to be dealing with all the finesse in the hands, you can literally do this with just two lines. So long as a true equalizing evener is employed, this principle can be done with any strung out hitch with any amount of animals. It was developed by some people back between the wars and was used quite commonly in the old combine hitches when they’d have up to 30 head. And they just had lines to the leaders. Everything else was buck-backed or tied in. Can you imagine 30 head with 30 lines? 15 in each hand! There’s no way it could be done. They developed this system and some of us have worked on ways of taking the concept of a buck back rope to use for training restraint purposes.
To change the subject come over here to three abreast, I’m going to show you one way that I use and we’ll get some other ideas in here.
I take a set of team lines and I string them up this way so that the left line is on the left side of the bit of these two horses. Right line, right side of the bit on these two horses. Now I have straps that I’ve made that are checks that go from, depending on what I’m trying to accomplish, they can go on the line ring on the hame, where the line passes through, or a number of other spots on the hame. This check comes across here and it’s fixed. It snaps in. So I take a set of team lines and those two cross checks and very quickly I’m in the field with three abreast. I just have two lines. You can drive this with four lines if you choose to. You can also get a set of lines set up to where there’s another cross check here. You have two checks on the lines.
I have seen other ways in Amish country, in Ontario, Canada, Indiana or Iowa or Pennsylvania. Just one example employs the jockey stick. There’s a set of team lines on two side by side horses and a jockey stick to the unlined horse. I have never seen that system operating with driving precision, it is as though the third horse must follow.
There is another system here with cross checks and two lines. There’s a variation on the above. I can literally put the short stub lines or crosschecks straight across, bit to bit, instead of back to the opposing hame. But the dynamic is not true. It’s a little bit awkward on the horse’s mouth. It’s better to have these replicating a cross check on a line.
And then there is the double cross check three abreast team line.
I had an accident 28 years ago. I took four abreast, good horses, and I set them up this way (see diagram next page) with a set of 20-foot team lines. And back behind them I had a three-section spike tooth harrow. Well broke horses, I was standing on a board. We were taking a break, a breather, and I didn’t see this guy in a florescent orange sweat suit, a jogger. I did not see him. I was hanging off this side over here with my hand on this horse’s hip.
We were taking a break and I was looking at these horses, I worked with them a great deal. I can’t remember the exact configuration but this guy came at me blind. I couldn’t see him jogging. He came up to the horses from this one side, they didn’t see him. The first thing they got from the jogger was an exclamation, “Oh, Cool!” They turned their heads and here’s this guy, I’m here, and here’s this guy coming around this way at their heads. He came into the field and surprised them. So what happens is, these horses start to shift this way. I step back a little bit because I need to be in control. This guy is running around us and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on. We had jackknifed. Everything was under control right up to a certain point. When I realized I hadn’t had occasion to find out yet that when I was behind that harrow, the harrow’s here and these four horses are turned that way, guess where the line is. They’re moving and I’m looking at this guy and they’re coming around and I’m trying to bring them in and I’ve got four inches of line in this hand, then it’s gone. We ended up two horses on either side of a tree. Horses on either side and I never caught the jogger. He ran faster than I did.
DOUG: Okay, well some of you may have already had a chance to read Ask A Teamster article in the most recent issue, Winter 2003 issue. There was a question about a little mare these folks were driving and some initial problems that evolved into worse and worse and worse problems. The lady, when asking the question had determined that she was not going to do any more with this little horse until she got some help because of how things were degenerating. She has agreed to not do anything else with her horse, not work with the horse until we have the demonstration on the Thursday preceding the auction. She will bring her here so that I can work with the horse, I can work with the horse and the owner as a demonstration to try to work this little mare through the problems that evolved and that she has developed which are pretty serious it sounds like. It’s going to be a one-day demonstration of gentling, open to the public.
LYNN: Eric Nordell, how long have you been working with horses?
ERIC: Well, I’ve been on my farm for 20 years and have had several experiences with horses before then.
LYNN: Was it primarily experiences with Amish farms?
ERIC: The first summer I was really immersed in working horses was in Lancaster County.
LYNN: What drew you to the horses, Eric?
ERIC: Well, I think initially I was very interested in sustainable agriculture. It seemed like the best way to go. That was just an intellectual idea and it went before I had a chance to work with it I realize.
LYNN: And has Anne supported you?
ERIC: Maybe you should ask her.
ANNE NORDELL: I support him in anything he does. I will tell you the story how we met, is that I was a poobah of a very large farm and Eric came to the farm for a job. I hired him on the spot and I will say that as long as he remembered who was boss, everything was just fine. (laughter) My background was actually using tractors and I really didn’t like using horses and so we started bargaining. We decided to have both a tractor and a team of horses. I grew up with a pair of Standard-bred horses. I supported Eric in this but I didn’t have any experience in it. But I started working with the horses and things became easier and easier. I started working with the horses off in the woods and we plowed potatoes and the experience with working the horses myself was very positive. We still had that tractor and we were using it less and less. We haven’t had a tractor for 15 years now.
LYNN: Christina, you and your husband Jim are from what island in Washington.
CHRISTINA: San Juan.
LYNN: San Juan and so coming here you have to come on the ferry. You have a carriage business and are you doing some farming with your horses?
CHRISTINA: Yes, we’re trying. We are doing pasture renovation and we’ve done haying for quite a few years, Spreading manure and pasture harrowing are my favorite things.
CHRISTINA: Oh, because it’s neat!
LYNN: You said that Jim’s job is the equipment and yours is the horses. But I know you let him go out occasionally with the horses.
CHRISTINA: Quite often during haying, I’m a swapper. We’re haying enough now that he spends most of his time now with the equipment because he’s nitpicky about everything being just right.
LYNN: Who’s the boss?
CHRISTINA: On what, the horses or the equipment? (laughter)
LYNN: Do you have Percherons?
LYNN: How many?
CHRISTINA: We have five. We have the two mares that we use and now we have a 3-year old that I would love to be working here soon and then two full brothers, one’s a yearling and one’s a two-year-old.
LYNN: How long have you been working with horses.
CHRISTINA: Well, I started when I was nine. I got my first horse at nine. It was a saddle horse. We went to draft horses about ten years ago.
LYNN: We sure appreciate all the panelists for agreeing to be subjected to this. We left off with a question about…Will you describe again for us exactly what you’re talking about?
AUDIENCE: Yes, I have a horse in harness, hooked up in a team. First few times she’s been really arching. Her whole body, her ribcage, her hindquarters, everything arching. And she is…she’s just arching. (Bending to the outside).
LYNN: Same direction?
LYNN: The reason I am asking that is because sometimes that can be a very strong indication of a physical discomfort. Like a problem with the shoulder, a collar. When a horse is turning this way, they’re trying to relieve pressure, a pressure point. And it doesn’t just have to be in the collar. I had one instance with a brand new harness, I didn’t notice that there had been a nail used in the ply of the tug. The nail was literally digging into the horse’s shoulder. Until I discovered it, that horse was trying to get away. I thought it was a behavior problem, but it wasn’t. The horse was trying to tell me something. DOUG: Mac talked about, I think, trying her on the other side. And that actually is a good diagnostic process too, because, if you put her on the other side and she goes the same way, she might have something like a little nail that she’s trying to get away from. It’s very common for them to not necessarily tend to bend the same way, switch sides with them as Mac alluded to.
MAC: It might be that that one check hold isn’t quite set right.
DOUG: Yes, good point.
LYNN: That’s very possible, there might be something in the adjustment that’s literally making her do that.
AUDIENCE: Could it be a wolf tooth or something in there?
DOUG: Yes, good point Walt, a lot of young horses have wolf teeth. They are small tiny teeth. A small tiny tooth where a bit contacts it and it can cause all kinds of problems with their heads, with attempts to evade or avoid whatever they are feeling from the bit on those wolf teeth. One of the Ask a Teamster articles I did was on wolf teeth in horses. So you can perhaps refer back to that. But I check for wolf teeth and remove them in young horses before I ever put a bit in their mouth. It’s a small tooth that is inconsistent, by the way. Some horses have them, some don’t. Some have one on one side and none on the other side. And on the top jaw, right here in this first hole, right here and they are very small. They can increase up to the size of my little fingernail maybe. But a lot of them are even smaller than that. And sometimes they are just underdeveloped and haven’t erupted. But they have a very sharp point. They are kind of a teardrop shape too. And the point is sometimes just under the gum which is actually worse when the bit puts pressure there than when they are erupted. But the bit tends to clang against them and bounce off and hit this other tooth and things of that nature apparently. So that’s something to check all horses on. I had a mare one time, way up in her teens and had lived all of her life, she got to where she was shaking her head and actually rearing up. I took the wolf teeth out of her because I couldn’t find any other reason for the behavior. We took her wolf teeth out and gave her about a week to heal out and she never shook her head or reared up again. That’s another option.
CHRISTINA: Isn’t that pretty easy thing to do, to take them out?
DOUG: Yes, getting wolf teeth out is a simple procedure. Just use a little elevator to loosen the gum a bit and wiggle them out usually. Sometimes light sedation, sometimes it doesn’t take much.
LYNN: Often times, there are wolf teeth, or a sore shoulder, or some physical thing that you don’t realize is going on. You don’t see it. You go to that certain condition thinking that you have to remedy it somehow. You connect with it. With a young horse, that aggravation, that process could end up inadvertently training the horse in a direction that you don’t want to train them. So in my opinion, it is very important to go through a process of elimination, trying to tell everything that could possibly be the cause of that; could possibly give her discomfort or a mixed signal, or a physical restraint. Doug, is certainly right. You could do a lot in a hurry as Mac said, plus shifting her position, making changes there. For example, if you move that horse to the left side and she continues to arch in the same direction you’ve got some mechanical thing going on there, maybe out of adjustment. Because if she goes the other direction, then I’m wondering whether or not I’ve got something that is not adjusted properly in the harness and/or if she has a behavior issue or just an attitude about what you ask them to do which you can work through all that.
AUDIENCE: Is that (arching) a common thing for a baby to do when they are first getting fitted for a collar?
MAC: Sometimes blinders too. They can see under one or over one and can’t see under or over the other one so they turn sideways. If you look at them straight ahead and you can’t see it, but if they pick their head up or down, you kind of get a clue that might be a problem too. There are a lot of little things that you never know about.
DOUG: Horses also tend to be right or left-handed. It’s easier for them to work things one direction, it’s more comfortable for them, for example, to go around the round pen in one direction than the other, it feels more natural. And so if she just has some anxiousness and some concerns about being hitched and driven and not being accustomed to it, not having settled into it, it may just be a tension or stress type reaction. Some of them tend to express that one to one side and some to the other. I know when I’m concentrating and writing sometimes, I tend to crank my head this way and I get a sore neck. It’s kind of intense and it’s creating the discomfort which is the real problem and I’m sure that same type of things happen to horses.
LYNN: Did we cover that?
AUDIENCE: I had a question kind of on the same line. I feel that our horses definitely have a right or left side comfort level because even when they are going to feed together, if they get on the wrong side, they’ll switch sides. I hear you talk about switching horses around a lot, putting them on different sides, do you do that even if it causes these kinds of stress reactions?
LYNN: That’s an excellent question and I know there are various opinions here. I believe in not trying to avoid stress in a horse. In other words I have the option, I can avoid making noise in the barn, I can avoid obtrusive things. I choose not to. Instead I take those things that I think are going to bother them and try to set the stage where they can get accustomed to them. For example, I need a team of horses and instead we’re going to a three. I like to use three abreast and rotate the individual horse’s position, even when I don’t need to. Because if these horses are accustomed to working together and I put another horse in the middle, they are not used to that. In that working situation, something starts to happen. What if I move that horse to the outside? We’re talking besides this horse getting accustomed to being next to horses, this horse is now getting accustomed to having a horse on both sides. If I move that horse here, this horse is now all of a sudden on the opposite side. There may be some measure of discomfort with that to begin with but by rotating horses in the three abreast, getting them used to different positions and to the uncertainty of it all, I am conditioning my animals to expect the variety. If I have a horse that doesn’t like to be on the left, I’m going to put him on the left. I’m not going to say ‘I know you don’t like to be on the left and you’ll probably throw a fit so I’m going to keep you on the right’. As much as is reasonable, I want my horses to be able to work in any position. It’s good for them and good for my operation. Of course, I allow as much flexibility as possible. There may be some physical aspects that would be qualifiers, for instance I had a gelding that was blind in his right eye and as long as his teammate was on the right, they could do anything and you’d never know Tuck was blind in that right eye. But if I rotated him like we’re talking about, he was fine but he wasn’t fine. He couldn’t see and it would change the dynamic of him. So there are situations where there would be exceptions but as a rule, just because they don’t like it, I wouldn’t use that as a reason. What do you think?
MAC: I think you’re right. I like to have horses be able to work wherever they need to work and if you don’t do it when you train them when they’re young, then it’s a lot harder for them when they get a bit older. We had a team that my grandfather bought out of a mine at Rock Springs and one of them was blind. They stayed together in the pasture. When one of them went down to water, of course, the other horse had to go with it. The blind horse had to be straight on the other side of the willows or something like this. The horse that wasn’t blind got more excited than he did. Of course, they depended on each other. And for one reason or another the blind horse was bigger than the other horse and we generally assume that we work the bigger horse on the right so when he’s down in the furrow, they match up better or something. I don’t know exactly what the background of that is but that was a good common assumption. But for one reason or another, mainly because that one horse had a little bit of ringbone, we decided to put the other horse in the furrow and not him, and they worked fine. So we were talking to the mine owner about it and he said, yes, they worked them both sides. And, of course, being in the mine, one of them went blind and the other one didn’t go blind in that kind of situation. So I think, in my experience anyway, there’s been one horse that we always worked on the right. He never did work on the other side. But he saw shadows with the other side so when we had him on the right, he didn’t seem to have that problem. Of course, they’re kind of bifocal type animals anyway. Ordinarily we try to work them on both sides. Then when they are by themselves, if they ever have to work by themselves, that’ll work too.
LYNN: I was in Iowa buying horses some time ago, years ago, and I went into a barn to look at some Belgian geldings and in the barn there were streams of colored pennants along the top of the stalls and there was a fan blowing the pennants. There was a PA system playing the most horrible organ music you could imagine. It was all of a sudden familiar to me, I realized that it was a tape recording of a horse show. The horses were standing in their stalls very casually. What this man had set up was a replication of many of the sounds that happen in the ring. This gave his horses a head start on dealing with the sensations of being in a show ring, familiarity helped them with their courage.
TOM: I was just thinking in my own head about what used to happen about clapping. You can take a team that is not used to be around a big audience and I’ve seen it happen quite a few times. When the audience starts clapping, they can sure shake the outfit up.
DOUG: One of the things that may be a little confusing to newcomers is that we talk a lot about the importance of consistency in horses. And now we’ve spent some time here talking about inconsistencies basically, exposing them to lots of different things and giving them a lot of exposure to things they are bothered by to eventually get them to accept it. What we want to do, horses really benefit from consistency in how we do things with them, how we treat them, how we ask for things, our commands, and so forth. But they also benefit from variety in environments in which we drive them, working on the right or the left side, exposure to all kinds of different stimuli and so forth. So it can be a little bit confusing. Consistency is extremely important but so is the variety.
TOM: You say consistency in the individual and how they go about exposing them to variety in the outside world.
DOUG: That’s important too. In other words being consistent in being calm and quiet around our horses, giving them patterns in the way we get them in and harness and hitch and things like that and yet variety in where we hitch them in the hitch and so forth and so on. So that they are versatile but confident, comfortable with the way we work them.
AUDIENCE: Do you work your horses the same way all the time?
LISE: Usually I work them in the same configuration and I change it from time to time.
MAC: If you came to work with me for a day, just to visit, I would probably give you two horses, one horse is specifically on the left and one on the right because I know how they would react. So when you have more than one horse, you have different personalities. Sometimes you would put personalities together in a given situation. It’s not that they’re married to each other but in that particular environment, these two work best together.
LYNN: If you have a lot of horses like we do, you can see that I have horses that work together as teams. Not only do they walk side by side out in the pasture but they frequently will walk on the side that they normally have in a team situation. That said, I also have horses that are teams that calmly work together and in the pasture they will walk beside horses other than their teammate.
TOM: When I’m breaking horses, I’m all for doing everything to them. But after I got a team well broke and I’m using them as a team, then I’m all for comfort there. If one likes one side better and works better there, I leave him there. I try to make it as comfortable for them as I can.
LYNN: There’s another thing that goes beyond that, it maybe applies also. In those areas and those time frames where working horses has a rich and expanding and very deep culture , I’m thinking specifically of last century in the British Isles and the illustrative stories from an English author and historian named George Ewart Evans, (he wrote a series of books I really recommend, Horse Power & Magic and Horses in the Furrow). Those books tell stories of the rich tradition in the British Isles of horsemanship where there are large farming estates of many acres with lots of horses and there were hired teamsters. And that teamster would select or be assigned or he would become inseparable with two horses. Those were his horses. Nobody else touched them. He didn’t own them but for the working relationship, they were his.
I’ve heard similar stories in the oil fields in Texas and Oklahoma where these teamsters were assigned a pair of horses that they didn’t own but they would work for the company. There was strong pride in all of that. It came to such an extreme that some of these teamsters even went to the point of making it difficult for anyone else to handle the horses. Whether that was with the commands they use, the nature of what they did, how they set things up. There was a point of pride that ‘nobody else could get Duke and Kitty to do what I do.’ In most relationships, the literature, and I know this from practical experience and from people I know, thinking about Jess Ross’ experience. Jess, a long-time dear friend, has spent a lot of time with me on my ranch with my horses. He worked at the Hershey Ranch in Big Hole, Montana, big operation. When I first met Jess he was running a buck rake for the Hershey outfit and he had a team of horses there and not much had to be said, I could tell that those horses didn’t belong to him, but nobody else touched them. Am I right Jess?
JESS ROSS: Yes.
LYNN: The stories are about how this hyper sensitivity that horses have. A team of horses commonly blindered, they can’t see behind them, these horses have a certain relationship with their handler. Four or five new strange people walk up, I take that pair of lines and hand them to an individual and nobody says anything. Though the horses cannot see what has happened, there is a very good chance that the demeanor of the animals will change just in that handoff. The person doesn’t have to jerk on the lines, they don’t have to do anything. It’s not a question of whether the horses are prone to be afraid. If you’re sensitive to them there’s a tactile difference. If you hand the lines to somebody there may be nothing more than the horse just becoming alert by turning their ears and maybe turning to look back. Some cases they’re nervous, some cases you’re making them a whole lot calmer. I don’t think they hear it. I don’t know whether this is telepathic. Have you noticed this Eric?
ERIC: Well actually, with our team, it seems like they’re relaxed either way. You put them with a completely inexperienced person and they’re on their best behavior. If someone comes along that knows something, it’s not that they’re trying to get away but they’re more pensive.
LYNN: We do workshops and I travel around to a lot of places and I encounter lots of horses that I know nothing about. It never ceases to amaze me, regardless of the level of training of the individual or its gender or monthly cycle, regardless of that, when you are in a workshop setting and there’s a lot of variety to it, it’s remarkable that 99.9% of those horses, as Eric says, they seem to know that things are different now. They feel the energy of everybody there. Horses are different just like people and some of us have a slow, steady way about us. If we can find a pair of horses to match that, then you’ve really got teamwork. If you are a high-energy person and you’ve got a couple of horses that are just like this, they’re going to drive you nuts. If you wind up with too many horses like we do, you can pick and choose for jobs. But I tend to work with certain horses because they are going to be right for that job.
TOM: I think horses know when you’re full of it, when you’re happy or when you’re cranky.
DOUG: A lot of people go out there and pick their horses based on age, color, size, height, etc. The personality and their individual energy was an important consideration. Pat Parelli has a school in Colorado and does workshops all around the world. I read one time that 80% of the people that come to his clinics with their horse, have the wrong horse for them. He doesn’t mean in terms of training, he means in terms of energy level, personality and that type of stuff.
AUDIENCE: I have a question that is kind of related. I have this one horse that has a little higher energy level than the other small one.
TOM: I think they do get a little more training. If I have a team where one is just a little shade faster and you just have to work with them all the time, sometimes on the slow one, I’ll drop a link on his tug and keep them even.
MAC: We do that quite often. It makes your cut quite a bit straighter. You don’t have to worry about your inside shoe as much. Sometimes it’s an energy level too. The horse that walks ahead, they’ve found out that if they walk ahead then they don’t have to catch up. If they work that way then that’s the way they work the best for that particular team.
DOUG: My preference would be to have them work even at the double-tree but it’s not worth frustrating yourself or frustrating her and getting upset and making each other miserable to try to have it exact.
AUDIENCE: Can you line them to help correct that?
DOUG: You can and a lot of times, in a lot of cases, that will work but there’s certain horses that you can shorten up on the lines and there’s certain horses that will fight them to get that nose ahead. I have a set of what I call extensions that I add on to the bit. Onto, my horse, Barney’s bit. They’re adjustable so I can shorten them or lengthen them a little, but they are 8.5” inches long. I use them when I’m breaking a colt with Barney. What I’ve found, Barney doesn’t hardly need a line on him to work. What I’ve found is that when trying to work with those foals a lot of times I would be aggravating Barney by having to use the lines on the colt. Slow him down, hold him back, give him a stronger message to come to one side or the other. And I was always working on Barney’s mouth because I was always having to readjust my lines. I can do it with line adjustments but this way I could just hook on to the extensions. Barney had freedom and I had good contact with the other horse. It also works good when I drive Barney and a horse that always seems to want to be out there and so I could have a little pressure on Dillon without affecting Barney. Then if Dillon settles down later after he gets the edge off him or the young colt is restless then I can buckle straight to Barney’s bit and just let the extensions hang.
Something interesting that happened to Tom and I the summer before last at the workshop, we took that horse Dillon, the one that always likes to be out there and pulling just a little harder than Barney. We put him up in the lead in a unicorn. I hadn’t hitched a unicorn for years. We put him on the lead in the unicorn, we thought that if he wants to go we’ll put him up there and he can be the leader. We put him out front and he wouldn’t go at all.
LISE: In my team there’s definitely one dominant and one less dominant one and if we’re on a forecart just going along the road, walking along, the dominant one is just slightly out ahead. But if we’re plowing or discing or anything that’s taking the effort, they’re both right in there.
LYNN: To change to a couple of other subjects, Kris Woolhouse had asked me during the break to talk about safety issues. You had mentioned that you had been someplace where you noticed that people were giving rides commercially. They had duck taped their tugs on the singletrees for example. There’s just a wide range of things we might talk about from a safety standpoint. I know that Kristine has had a lot of experience with commercial situations where you’re out in the public. But all of us do to varying degrees. Safety is a critical issue. One of the things that I would like to mention that I think is very important, I’m surprised in my travels, in my work judging, observing around the country, I would say to my dismay that half, literally half of the horses that I see at parades, at horse shows, those kind of places, should not be there. They are not ready. They are not trained. It surprises me that there are not more public accidents. That said, the horses very consistently, the horses that I have seen that are best behaved, most reliable in public had been the ones that have work that they did at home. If they go out in public they are a different horse altogether.
The safety issue is a critical issue especially with what’s happening in the insurance industry right now.
CHRISTINA: I must have a good record because when I first went to get insurance it’s not as high now as it was total. I went to my local insurance company and said I need a million dollars, find me something with a really top quality insurance company and eventually we got it. The hitch that we have, knock on wood, hasn’t had any accidents … Our farm insurance would not cover our carriage company. They wouldn’t touch us. So we had to get that separate.
AUDIENCE: The issue with insurance is the cost of insurance unless you’re actually naming what premiums you’re paying we’re not really providing each other with information. Now there’s a lot of people with farms that do not have farm insurance. For people like Dan and I who run a carriage operation, we don’t own a farm. We have ten acres but we don’t have farm insurance. We have commercial carriage insurance so we have a lot of competitors who come in with a horse and carriage that are running farm insurance and so they’re paying $400 a year and I’m paying $2,000 a year. And so our costs are not the same. When you start talking about insurance, when you leave the price out nobody is being helped. We need to talk openly about the price that we’re paying if we’re going to help each other.
DOUG: With respect to price it really pays to shop around. When we had the sleigh ride/wagon ride dinner business at the ski resort, I got quotes that ranged from under $1,000 to over $5,000 for essentially the same coverage, so it really pays to shop around. And also be sure that they know that you are not doing saddle horses. When you put a person on a saddle horse, the insurance just skyrockets. So if they know you’re hauling people around on a carriage or giving rides on a sleigh that competent and experienced teamsters are in charge of the horses then the insurance is going to be a lot cheaper than if you put individuals off the street in control of, for example, a saddle horse.
LYNN: I’m inviting some disagreement here. I’m saying that you could take some extremely well-trained horses and a competent teamster and put them in a public setting where something went wrong, equipment broke, something went wrong you didn’t expect like a smoke-jumper landed on your team. I don’t know what it might be but if you have a teamster and well-trained horses, you have that, and there’s some surprise or the equipment breaks, there’s a very excellent chance that everything is going to be fine. But if the horses don’t have the training, the teamster is not qualified, in that setting if you have something break or you have a surprise you’re asking for trouble.
JOHN: I think you’ve oversimplified it. If we have an experienced teamster and we have a very well trained team, but if we don’t have that as one unit, you still have a loose cannon. There has to be a relationship between them, they have to speak the same language.
DOUG: If those horses know you speak their language, that connection can be made very quickly.
How about we go down the line here and have each person give the first thing that comes to mind with respect to safety. Mac, will you start us off.
MAC: That’s a pretty big subject.
DOUG: That’s why I only asked for the first thing.
MAC: I think the first thing that comes to mind is anticipation. Worst case scenario, what is the worst thing that can happen if you do it this way? How can you improve on that particular situation? So the main thing is consciousness of what is going on. Some of our safety is from experience.
LISE: I think the first thing that comes to my mind is having good contact with my horses. Me, with my horse, and my situation, I maintain good contact with them. I know where they are, I know what’s going on around us. I think about the job that I’m trying to accomplish and have things set up, mostly I’m working by myself, so if I ever go public with them which isn’t very often, I’ve never gone public by myself. I always take at least one or two extra hands (people). Know as much as I can about the situation I’m going into with them and setting it up so I have as much control as I can in the job that I’m trying to do with them. Good contact with them.
TOM: I think of all the things that I can do while I’m training them, keep them doing it, to mind me and have them broke. So many people have horses that they use, but they’re not broke. Especially with saddle horses. You’ll see somebody sell a kid a horse that’s supposed to be a well broke horse. They don’t do it intentionally because they think it’s broke. They don’t know what a good broke horse is. My first thing is to start him off with everything right and trained right and everything is just right before you start them out.
LYNN: Tom, what is good broke horse?
TOM: A good broke horse to me is a horse that will put his life on the line for me. If I wanted to run him into the side of that building, he’d go for it. I wouldn’t do it but whenever I ask him to do something he’d do it. He’s broke, if I ask him to do something, he does it. He’s not afraid of it because he trusts me.
LYNN: John, what’s good broke horse?
JOHN: Don’t ever ask a horse to do something he can’t do because they’ll lose faith that you ever asked him to do something that he can’t do. As long as he has that faith in you like Tom says, he’ll work awfully good for you.
LYNN: The predominant philosophy for the last three or four hundred years has held that the horse had to have its spirit broken and submit to your absolute control. There have been exceptions and they go way back. There are those of us that believe, as Alexander the Great believed, that you could take a horse and gain from it acceptance and have a good working relationship based on mutual trust. However, there are people (and exceptional horsemen in their midst) that believe that that is a bunch of hogwash. There are two different philosophies here; one that talks about submission and one that talks about acceptance. But in both cases, it is required that there’s an election of whose in control. My horses have chosen to give me control. I’m deciding what’s going to happen.
CHRISTINA: My anticipation is to know what I’m doing and if I see anything that is unusual I want to try to help first. Bagpipes are a really unusual situation.
DOUG: I think we’re seeing some votes for anticipation, looking ahead, prevention, Eric.
ERIC: Basically in the same vein, anticipating the horse’s psychology too. For example, early in the morning, you have to run downhill to the barn with a cultipacker behind them. You may be expecting a little too much if you walked away to make a telephone call. Chances are they’re going to take a step and then take quite a few more steps. To be an excellent horseman, there’s a point where you need to use common sense too. This is all just basic stuff. Not getting yourself tangled up whether it’s with the lines, or the equipment. You get tangled up and fall in something and you yell, it’s not your horses fault that they get excited. Along the lines of that is I think just not in a tense situation not signaling danger. That comes back to being an experienced teamster. Even if you know things are getting a little tricky, the horses shouldn’t know that.
JOHN: One thing I always tell everybody that comes to us, whenever you take a horse or a team out of the barn or the pasture, you’re responsible for everything that happens. You are responsible for everything that happens. So be aware of everything that’s going on. Planes flying over, cars going down the road, be aware. Be aware of the input coming into that horse. As long as you are aware and you take on your responsibility, you’ll be ahead of the game and you won’t be a tourist. You’ll be able to anticipate, like everybody says, if something is going to happen. If you can head it off before it happens, it’ll never happen. I think that’s where safety is. The biggest thing is to anticipate where trouble is going to come from.
LYNN: Many of us have this experience where people want to come and help. You’re hooking up a team, you’ve done it a hundred times, you know what you’re doing and somebody says, here let me help and they come over here and they’re on that side hooking the lines, you think. They’re hooking the neckyoke, hooking the front end up, you don’t know exactly what they’ve done or how they’ve done it. I’ve had visitors who are extremely qualified and it may be an insult to them but I say, I’m sorry, I just need to check it. Then I double-check everything, going through the procedure as if I were hooking them myself. I’ve seen situations, like in a show, where people run up to help with unhooking or hooking on a hitch situation. Those folks that are a little inexperienced there allow that help and they don’t go double-check it, they’re setting themselves up for hazard. It’s so easy for somebody, even if they know what they are doing, to accidentally snap something in the wrong place.
TOM: It’s a good idea if you’re coming up to somebody that’s working a horse, come up real slow and then before you get there stop and ask them, “Can I help you?” Either they’ll say yes and tell you what to do or they’ll say no and you go sit down.
LYNN: Somebody comes to the ranch and I’m hooking or unhooking coming in from the field. Fifty percent of the time, I’ll stop a team on a mower or a plow and the visitor instantly walks to the head of the horses. It’s as if they believe they are supposed to be there to help you. My first command to them, not to the horses, but them, my command to them is, please, just step aside. And they think well ‘there’s a problem here’ and they’ll step aside and they’ll be quiet. I make a point of not being quiet or overprotective of my horses when I’m hooking or unhooking. Whatever happens when we’re hooking or unhooking just happens, right? I don’t have to protect them from that. What I’m trying to do is protect myself from those people. I want my horses so that I can drive them to town and they’ll stand there as long as it takes and I go do what I have to do. When I come back out they are going to stand stock still until I get them unhooked and they are not going to move from that spot until I’m ready to go, period. I don’t want somebody out there holding on their headstall or their halter, or whatever or petting them. I want their attention. That’s a critical zone, hooking and unhooking for me. And every single minute you spend with your horses you’re training them. Not everybody agrees with me on this, but you take a well trained intelligent horse and you allow them to do something three times, it’s going to take you five, six or seven times to undo what you just allowed them. You’re going around that field and you’re stopping at the same corner every time to take a break. You stop three times and the fourth time you don’t even have to say whoa. They’re in anticipation. They’ll stop right there. Is that true Mac?
DOUG: Attention, I think paying attention to the horses, their mood, the signs they are sending us, the equipment, like John explained, paying attention. I heard a good quote one time and that is, “life isn’t free, you have to pay attention.” That is my advice in triplicate for working horses. Last year at a workshop we had a couple situations at the same workshop where somebody was driving one of the teams and I was on the seat giving them suggestions from time to time. They got to visiting with me and their attention lapsed with the horses and went to me even though they were still watching the horses and they were still working the lines, their attention became more involved in the conversation with me than it was with the horses. The team stopped. It happened twice in the same workshop. The team stopped. They were no longer being driven. They had no direction. The team stopped. It can happen the other way. If you are paying attention then they can react to other things that can cause a wreck.
The other thing is that too many times we focus on our principle. We focus on our purpose. We’re going to hook this team to this wagon and something isn’t working well. Something isn’t going right. But we’re going to get that team hooked to that wagon. What Walt was talking about reminded me of sticking to your principles as to how you’re going to work with the horses. Putting principle first and the purpose second.
LYNN: Many wrecks start with a little pulse that kind of went to a rumble. There was a lot of evidence ahead of time that something wasn’t right.
DOUG: And the quicker you can pick up on that and stop, back up, do something else, take a time out. Let them stand and try again, distract them by doing something else that’s easy and they’re familiar with, things like that.
LYNN: I am going to come back up here to some suggestions that I’d like to make to you on the equipment end. I’m going to suggest that to have a buckle billet on your line to buckle into your bit instead of a snap, it’s worth an awful lot. It’s worth an awful lot. You can be the best teamster, you can have the best horses in the world and you get a piece of snap that doesn’t work right, breaks, falls apart, whatever it might be. So I’m just suggesting that you’re better off with a buckle billet than you are with a snap. It’s a good piece of insurance.
JOHN: This is cheap life insurance. You don’t even have to pay for it.
DOUG: I’ve used some line extensions that snap into a D ring onto the end of set of short lines. A couple times we’ve used those as single lines, lines for a single horse and we used to put some electrical tape around there if we had to use them for lines on the bit. Since then I have gotten some of the wire snaps, I’ve replaced all of those old spring tooth tongue snaps with twisted wire snaps and I do feel comfortable using those on a bit.
LYNN: It takes a bit of work to get it in there.
Some team lines are set up so that the cross check, this piece of leather, has been tapered and has a hole in it and it fits into a Conway on the line. So that this is fitting over here and tucking in. Some line runs through here and this one comes in here. Take that set of team lines to a harness maker and have them change that. Because everything is dependent on this little section right here.
CHRISTINA: Mine are just regular buckles on my crosschecks.
JOHN: Yes, two bar buckle with a loop.
LYNN: The dynamic here when you’re working a team of horses you’ve got your neckyoke and your double-tree and I use that story to demonstrate, you can have something go wrong back here, singletrees at this hitch and there’s an awful lot that you can do with that situation. But when this breaks, when the neckyoke breaks, or the … breaks and the tongue comes down below horses, I’ve heard two occasions in the last five years of where a tongue in this situation, a wooden tongue, was driven into the ground, split, and the wood came up and killed the horse. Run right into the belly of the horse. This is a real problem, you have to be as lucky as I was to deal with this. We’ve had it happen, Jess and I have had a situation like that, well trained horses, remember Jess, didn’t you have Red and Blue on a side delivery rake or was that me and the tongue broke? We stopped and we did what we had to do. Things were just fine. Training was very important here.
DOUG: The tongue doesn’t have to break. Your neckyoke isn’t fastened on, your trace chain comes unhooked like John was talking about. They can walk that neckyoke ring right off the end of the tongue and you’d have the same problem.
LYNN: For safety sake I always, as you can see from these implements, take a piece of wire and tie on for safety, tie on the neckyoke.