Teamster Roundtable 2002 Part 1
Teamster Roundtable 2002 Part 1
Small Farmer’s Journal Office, February 23, 2002
John Erksine, Morris Elverud, Mike McIntosh, Amy Evers, Dan Kintz, Joyce Sharp, Donna Waldron. Moderators: Lynn Miller and Doug Hammill
LYNN: I’d like to introduce the folks whom we’ve invited to sit up here. The idea behind this round table discussion started many, many years ago, 30 some odd years ago when I first took an interest in working horses and traveled around and visited and watched people working. The majority of the folks who were working successfully with the animals, many of them dear friends who have now passed on, were real masters of the art. They often had an interesting, curious and sometimes difficult attitude toward beginners. Morris Elverud, who is on our panel, may forgive me for using a friend of ours as an example. Before I ever bought a team of horses I pressed a gentleman by the name of George Speisschart for some information. He said to me, “You know, I think you’re wasting your time. You’re not going to be able to pick up on this, you’re just not able to learn this, you’re wasting my time and you’re wasting your time, you’re not going to learn.” And George had a gruff manner about him at times. He was a true master teamster and he was a good teacher for a lot of folks but a lot people who were first getting started thirty years or more ago were shut down and/or out by folks like George.
This attitude is not unique to us or our times.
There are exceptional books written by the British agriculture historian George Ewart Evans among which are “Horse In The Furrow” and “Horsepower and Magic”. In these he recounts stories from the British Isles of the extent to which the teamster’s craft was magic and mystery to be protected. He talked about the fact that when somebody in the British Isles had the obvious and complete mastery of the craft of working those big horses, the tricks of his trades, the little secrets, he had to keep to himself, because when he gave up those tricks and those secrets, he gave up his power. He gave his position in the community. If everybody could do this then he would no longer be special. This became a community dynamic so that there were literally secret societies of teamsters, and they were forever playing tricks on each other and on outsiders, but especially on the novice.
I decided a long time ago that the tricks, the secrets, all of them, must be shared information, must be common knowledge, so that everybody has a more successful time, a safer time, a more pleasurable time with horses. Then the community of us who choose to work these horses would and will grow. We’re all going to be better off.
With publishing efforts, the stuff that we do traveling around doing workshops and presentations, we’ve tried to find formats that encourage and allow people to share these secrets, information, as much as possible, to break down the barriers. Because it’s my contention that if we know all these things we’re going to appreciate the master’s skill that much more. Not less. It’s not going to diminish the power in the community of those who are recognized immediately and justifiably as masters. So that said, I want to introduce some people to you. All the way down at the end of the table is my very good friend, Doug Hammill. We’ve known each other for a quarter of a century, we’ve shared a lot of miseries and pleasures, we’ve argued about a lot of stuff, we have a lot of things in common, we enjoy agreeing to disagree about the things when that’s appropriate. He, for me, is more than a kindred spirit. He’s a true master of all of this business of working the horses. He is a retired equine veterinarian, he has Clydesdale horses in Montana, you know about his workshops and a lot of you know about his reputation and his accomplishments with all that. Doug and I both appreciate, and enjoy trying to understand better, the magic and we have a natural inclination to want to share this and help people.
Morris Elverud; the first time I saw Morris Elverud he was driving George Speisschart’s hitch in 1980 at my show in Eugene. We had quite a show then, 300 horses showed up, including the horses of the Mel Anderson family.
MORRIS: Could I add a little to that?
LYNN: Yes, sir.
MORRIS: I was, like you said, driving for George Speisschart, and I had never been to a draft horse show in my life and we had (an amateur) competition drive with the four-up. And I drove the four-up in there and pretty soon they waved me over and put me in a corner and I sat there in the corner while this event was going on and pretty soon they awarded all the ribbons and took everybody off. Well, George Speisschart, you talk about a old Belgian getting hot under the collar, he come in there just a rippin’ and said, “What the heck is going on?” Well, one of the stewards had gone over to the horse show judge and said that ‘that man drives like a professional’. The judge thought that the steward said, ‘that man IS a professional’. I’d never driven in a horse show in my life. It was an amateur drive, see, and you talk about some of our old friends getting hot under the collar. Well, the show almost stopped right there. I just wanted to kick that in. It’s one of those incidents that can happen. Now, I just went in there and I drove like I drive any day of the week, you know, and didn’t think anything of it but we showed ’em the next day. We had a four-up and it was a timed event and George said, go in there and show ’em what you can do with a four-up. And I went in there and three different times they took the times of some of the others because they said there was no way I could have went so much faster than anybody else.
LYNN: Morris is a master teamster; he has a lifetime of experience in working with horses. Morris is one of those people that when you are watching him with the horses, it’s hard to hear what he’s saying, but you see what he’s done. Everything is so fluid he makes it look easy. He makes it look like it’s just no big deal. I’m tickled that he could come and join us.
Morris has Belgian horses now and he has a history with Percherons and Belgians, whether it’s in the field or the show ring, he’s pretty much done it all.
Sitting next to him is this sweet lady, Joyce Sharp. When we first came to Central Oregon we had about 120 acres of hay to cut and Joyce and her late husband, Jack Bissel, came out, Bud Dimmick came out, Bill Elrod came out I believe that time, and we had an interesting experience because I think we had five mowers out there and we dropped all the hay in a couple of days and everybody but Joyce left. And then I realized that I had to get it all raked and put up and the teams were all gone, ’cause they had brought their own horses and mowers.
Joyce and Jack stayed and raked for a long time and I think that was our first working experience together. Joyce said to me when she got here, I’m not sure why I’m up here – she’s a very humble lady with a tremendous amount of experience with livestock. She’s been working at the local stockyards forever. She’s a true master horsewoman, in the saddle or with the lines in her hand, but she doesn’t think she is. And she’s a good friend and I’m glad that she’s here. Some of you may recognize her from coming to the Journal auctions. She’s one of our primary clerks. And one of the reasons our auction runs so smoothly is because we never have to worry about her knowing what to write on the ticket.
The man sitting next to Joyce in the red hat there, is Dan Kintz. Right behind him is a poster on the wall. In that poster, that’s Dan, with his team on my farm in 1975 at a plowing match that Roy Drongeson and I put together. Three years before that, I went to a plowing match and this gentleman had been pointed out to me as one of the championship pulling horse guys, horse loggers. He was out there with the team on a walking plow and I was moving around with a camera. Dan was just very, very, very quiet and I walked up near his two horses – the one horse that was on the land looked to my unschooled eye like a young horse – I didn’t know anything about them other than they appeared to be Belgian horses and Dan was just kind of leaning on the handles, he’d already done four or five furrows, and I walked over and he said hello, and I said hello to him and I’m sure he doesn’t remember this – the horse on the land stepped over the tug. Dan said -(in a soft voice) “Now, Prince.” He walked over and put his hand on the horse’s hip and took a hold of that chain like he was going to push the horse over and that youngster, I think he was two or three years old at the time, kicked this man and knocked him over on his back. Dan got up and said (again in the same soft voice), “Now Prince.” He leaned over and put the trace back. My thought was “I guess getting kicked by a horse isn’t so bad.” (laughter) It didn’t seem to hurt him. Do you remember that Dan? And when I was talking to you at the time I seem to recall that you said that that horse, it was like the fourth or fifth time you’d ever hooked him. Two or three year old.
DAN: Two year old.
LYNN: It took some years for me to realize exactly what I had seen, the mastery that was evident there. What he had done is telegraph, through his poise, a certain expectation. Instead of taking a stick and whopping that young horse right there that minute, reacting in this more typically forceful way with a response that might have had that horse’s schooling take a little longer, Dan took the soft approach. I don’t know what he did when he got home, but in public it was pretty impressive. I’ve known Dan since before I ever worked horses and he has been a hero of mine, an amazing gentleman with horses, a tremendous treasure trove of experience. It’s a real honor for him to join us.
Sitting next to Dan is Donna Waldron. The first time I saw this young lady in the ring with a team of pulling horses was in the early 70’s at I believe the Monroe Draft Horse Extravaganza. She was pulling against a man I’m sure is now long gone, who she may or may not remember, named Norm Stewart. (Donna nods in surprised remembrance.) Norm Stewart was a little man who must have been 80 at the time. He had a big black team of young horses who took care of him at every step. When Norm drove his horses you could not hear his voice. It was inaudible. He was crippled with arthritis, he could barely walk and yet he made it all look so easy. He insisted on hooking them himself at the pulling match. It was amazing to see, but there was nothing to see. There was no drama, everything was so quiet, so slow, so easy, so sure. Donna, at the time going by her maiden name Anderson, was in the ring – I’ve known Donna since she was 12 or 13?
DONNA: I started when I was 14 years old.
LYNN: Here’s this young lady in the ring with a team of Shire horses and what we had was grace and poise and drama. Donna Anderson comes from a family with a long and fantastic history with draft horses. Her dad, Mel Anderson who has passed on, was a dear friend. If you knew Mel Anderson you knew where Donna’s grace and poise and charm and humor and ability came from. It’s a dramatic example of heritage. This woman is capable whether she’s driving mules or horses. This woman is capable in the show ring, driving a 6-up, making everybody envious of her skills. She is capable if she’s in a pulling match, she’s capable when she’s out with 6 head on a plow. She’s amazing to watch. Donna was a little bit hesitant just like Joyce and said I’m not sure why I should be up there. She said the only way you’re going to get me up there is if you put me next to John Erskine.
I’ve known John Erskine for a very, very long time. He’s an important friend to me. He thinks he shouldn’t be up here because he thinks he doesn’t know that much. Whether John’s driving his magnificent Shire horses on his hitch wagon or out plowing or mowing or disking, any of that, if you’ve seen him with his horses, you know that he’s a master. If you see him with people with questions, youngsters, oldsters, anybody who wants to know something, you know this man has a giving spirit and loves to share and he loves to help people. And he ought to be up here for all he knows and all he cares about, his manner and his philosophy.
Sitting next to John is Amy Evers. I don’t know how many years Amy has worked for us here at the office. She’s our front line filter. When people call with equipment and I’m asleep, busy, or at the ranch Amy is the one that’s trying to answer or filter the mechanical and horse questions because she has a lifetime of experience with horses, going back to when she was just eleven.
For years now Amy has elected to come in the summer time and help us when we’re haying, driving our teams. She and her family raise Fjords in Redmond. Her dad is a very dear friend and has also helped us out at the ranch on many occasions. Amy’s perspective and Amy’s attitude will be important for those of you ladies who might be wondering if you want to do this and maybe wondering about limitations that would be inherent to the gender. We have three women on our panel. That should convince you that this craft belongs to anybody who is attracted to it. I’m glad that Amy’s here and plus it was a lot cheaper to get her on the panel ’cause she had no choice. (laughter)
Mike McIntosh; I haven’t known Mike all that long but I think we’ve been kind of floating around in concentric circles. We know a lot of the same people. Mike and his family have a Belgian hitch here in Redmond. Mike has delighted people in Central Oregon, all around Oregon, with his skills driving his horses. He’s a man who obviously has a great deal of enjoyment with what he does and is obviously a master of the craft. I was anxious to have Mike join us here to give a slightly different perspective. Mike and his family do a measure of farming, some haying and so forth with their Belgian horses, and they take their show hitch around to places, to some of the local shows. Do you make it to the state fair?
MIKE: I had to quit that little endeavor. My day job got in the way.
LYNN: Mike’s involved in our education system, not the penal system.
MIKE: Well, if they come to the principles office they get to the penal system.
LYNN: I want to ask Mike if he thinks there is a future for the workhorse and/or the mule.
MIKE: Yes. (- silence – laughter.-) Do you want me to expand on my yes?
LYNN: Okay, Yes I do.
MIKE: I think yes, and I look down this panel at this group of people and I, like Lynn, cut my teeth at an early age – I was older than Amy, but I got my first horses via Dan Kintz. Three little mares named Molly, Minnie and Mischief, so I think that the future lies in the interest of people like us. And the connections with people in this room who can show you the ropes. It’s a passion; it’s not a livelihood necessarily as much as a religion. And so, as the future goes, there are new disciples coming and going and I look down this group and owe a lot of my knowledge to certain people sitting to my right, so the future is bright. It’s way better now than I think it was when I began 30 years ago as a lad at the state fair watching other people show horses and thinking how do I do that. And they said that you pick up things with the pointies on the end and you start doing this.The future is good and it’s because of people like this.
LYNN: John, do you think there is a future for the work horse or not?
JOHN: There’s definitely a future for the work horse and like Mike said it’s through all these people in this room and the ones that are not here and the ones that are going to learn from you people, from all of us, and people say it’s a dying art or something, it’s alive and well. It’s just not on Main Street. There’s a future for it, for the community. You know they can earn their keep if you’re planning to do that, they can be hobbies, and they can be a source of entertainment, or pleasure. The more you use them the more healthy it’s going to get and the more people will use them.
DOUG: Well I was fumbling through and dropping notes over here that I’ll be using tomorrow but I have a statistic in my notes. There were three times as many horses in the United States in the year 2000 as there were in 1900. Now granted, a lot of those are light horses, saddle horses, that have never seen a set of harness and never will, but a lot of those horses are draft horses, driving horses, work horses, mules that do go into harness and I can recall back when I was young, I didn’t grow up in a family of horsemen, I used to think that was very unfortunate but now I have an appreciation for it that I didn’t have in the past because I wasn’t preprogrammed and limited by somebody else’s ideas how this all should be done. I had a more challenging job to go out and find the teachers and the information and so forth. But in the 1960’s it was very difficult to find a set of harness, neck yoke or collar, and it was very difficult to find a wheelwright. The Amish were almost virtually the only source in those times and since then, in the 30 some years since then, we’ve seen a continual growth in not only the use of horses and mules in harness but all the ancillary products and equipment necessary to utilize them. It now extends well beyond the Amish and thanks in great measure to Lynn Miller at the other end of the table there, and all of the tremendous preservation and educational work that he’s done, the things he’s provided, obviously you all read the Journal. The productive work that we are seeing these horses do again, back in the 60s, even the 70s, most of the people that had horses, draft horses, draft mules, were either doing something on their own in some small corner of various regions of the country or they were showing, nowadays all over the country we’ve got people doing productive work, contributing to their livelihood. That is amazing when compared to even 20 years ago, 15 years ago. It is continuing to grow and develop, both from the standpoint of the aesthetics and the emotional benefit we get from working with a living animal, to the practical work and the livelihoods there, and I see this as continuing. Very definitely. My workshops are a good example of that. Every year I have lots of people come to my ranch and participate in my workshops. A number of people in the audience have been there and they come from all parts of the country, all parts of the United States and Canada. They come for all kinds of different reasons. Some come just because they love horses and want to have this as a hobby but more and more are coming because they are actually going to do something with horses and mules. Yes, for their own enjoyment but also as a productive part of their livelihood, or their entire livelihood in some cases. I see a very bright future.
LYNN: Donna, do you think it’s all washed up?
DONNA: Through the years I’ve seen people getting into draft horses and I can kind of say, they’ll be here in 10 years or they won’t be here in 10 years because for some people that get into it it’s more of a business and it’s just not going to work with a draft horse. You have to have a passion for them. I mean I’ve grown up with draft horses; they will always be in my life. They are what make me who I am and so you have to have a passion, you can’t look at the dollars and cents if you get into draft horses because you’re not going to have them after a while. But if you’re truly passionate for them, and there are some people who haven’t had the benefit of being raised with them like I have and they have a true passion for them and they will have them down the road. And if you just, you know, if you have a small farm, use the horses. Don’t leave them over in the pasture and go feed them with a tractor. Get them out of the field and they will feed themselves with themselves. You know some people feel like it takes so much time, it doesn’t. It doesn’t when you work your horses every day and they know what they’re doing and you know what you’re doing. It’s not like you go out there every six months and find, “what did I do with my lines,” “somebody stole my hame strap,” the collars don’t fit, I’ve got to find some that fit,” if you’re doing it every day, it takes you five minutes. About as long as it takes to warm up the tractor, if it starts. So I think, use them. A lot of people come to me with problems, “my horse does this, what do I do?” I say, ‘use them’. Just use them. Some people bring them out to the plowing bees. Last time they were hooked up was last year’s plowing bee. They’re not going to work too smooth. So if it’s in your heart, yeh, there’s a passion for them and there is always going to be people with passion for them.
JOHN: I was just going to say, kind of add on to what Doc’s saying. You know twenty years ago a lot of this stuff was hard to come by, even knowledge or material things like harness and parts and pieces. Every year, for the past 30 years, this thing has grown. Stuff’s become more available; there are more knowledgeable people out and about. There were knowledgeable people 30 years ago but they all stayed home. If you didn’t know exactly where they were then you couldn’t find out. A lot of people now are helping other people and it’s growing, steadily growing.
LYNN: Here’s a question concerning a team of horses with a pulling or logging background. They are about 8 years old and the minute you say go, they are gone.
JACKIE from the audience: ………….the minute you say step up boys, they’re in the red.
LYNN: Horses and mules love repetition. They love a routine they can identify with. And they can excel at it. If you have a horse that has been used for a long time for a specific purpose, is always handled the same way, is always expected to do the same thing, in the same way, it becomes ingrained.
Years ago when I was doing a little bit of pulling I was using my horses also for farming and I was not doing very much pulling. I found out early on, and I had exceptional teachers in this as models, that I needed to be careful and modify how I did stuff. Because there is a routine for pulling and this can apply in a logging situation, but pulling is perhaps a more dramatic example. When you’re pulling on a regular basis, the horses learn that the load they are going to be pulling is going to increase, it’s going to get harder and harder and harder. They learn that you want them to pull this load. They learn that you want to have them pull the load a certain distance. They learn that when they hear a whistle they are going to stop. There’s a whole bunch of routines here that come to play. For some people, and some horses, the way to get the load started is to hit the load. They need to throw themselves into it. We can only guess with your specific team because we don’t have the background information of how they would have been used in the woods. There are some horses used in the woods where the lines are tied up and they go to the landing on their own.
JACKIE: Excuse me Lynn. These horses were used in pulling contests, in an outdoor arena. They had to go a certain distance, they had to stop, backup ……
LYNN: Okay, so there’s a routine that they get into their brain. Then how the horses are outfitted in that routine; what kinds of bits are used, the kind of harness that’s involved comes into play. You take that horse or horses, bring them from Iowa and bring them here and then ask them to do an entirely different job; they are still dancing the Mambo and you want them to dance a Ballet. That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your horses. They’re wrestlers that are being asked to weed the garden. So when they pull those weeds out they yank ’em hard and quick because they’ve been trained and conditioned for this other job.
Dan Kintz, can he take those horses now, (they stand quiet, they harness quiet, they hitch quiet), can he get them to where he hasn’t got four people falling off the back of the wagon when they start?
DAN: It’s going to be difficult, it will take time but it could be done. It’s going to be a pain in the side for a long time. He says they’re taking a load and hitting it hard. My logging horses, maybe I did it wrong, but I tried to get them to start a load easy. You know, hold em back, get them started together and hold them together, not to hit it hard. I never had no problem on the wagon no matter where you sat.
They must have been used in a pulling contest.
JACKIE: The harder the run the harder they pull. I’d try less weight and they just go faster. So then what I tried to do is feather them and I can get them to feather, but when I’ve got 20-25 dudes in the back of that wagon I can’t have a wreck, okay. So then I put another team and wagon in front of them and that got them slowed down to where they would stay in a walk and they were happy. But I don’t know what else to do.
JOHN: Narcotics! (laughter)
DOUG: Better horsemanship by modern medicine. (more laughter).
MIKE: You know they have a mental problem because somebody has trained them to do this, maybe not intentionally but they allowed them to do this and they have learned that this is the way to do it. You know my feeling is that you can modify that but when you least expect it and the ducks all line up in a row they’re going to do it again. So I mean if you modify their behavior and things are going well and you get kind of relaxed and say well, we finally got that nonsense out of their head and things line up right and you get these people kind of half standing up and half sitting down and whoever’s driving clucks them. Well…
MORRIS: I’ve seen spoiled horses that had been hooked up to not long enough trace chains, chains on behind a doubletree, and like they had a tin can tied to their tail. It takes a long time to get them over that too. And bouncing their heels ——
LYNN: Morris said that he’s seen horses that were hooked short, too short, and they had the experience of expecting something to hit them in the heels at the back end. They are reacting to it as if to say – “let me out of here”.
DONNA: Well, I just wondered how long you’d had the horses, how long you’ve been working with them?
JACKIE: I’ve had them about a little over a year but I let them set for about five months before we got behind them.
DONNA: So how long have you worked them steady now, lately?
JACKIE: We’ve worked them steady 3 – 3 1/2 months now.
DONNA: And did you have a wagon in front of them at that time too, then?
JACKIE: I run sometimes two, three wagons at a time. That’s the only time I’ve had them settle down.
DONNA: And when they are out on their own, then they are back to their old ways again then? When they are in the lead?
JACKIE: (Nods yes).
JOHN: How much work do you do with them other than when you have a wagon full? Do you wait to get a wagon full of people to work them? Do you have time to take these animals out and work them?
JACKIE: We have a big outdoor riding arena and I get them in the arena and practice them there and then I take them out on the ranch empty and work them there.
MIKE: I don’t know who funded the purchase of the ponies but my education experience says that habit is about 10 times harder to relearn or cover up or change or modify than they ever would have learned in the first place. And so know that it is probably doable, but the question you’re going to ask over time is; is it worth the energy and the time to make it happen. It sounds like its pretty well ingrained and to make that change, you know, like people or anything else, that habit is hard to break. If that’s the way they think they are supposed to perform, a horse is a loyal enough animal to do it that way for a long, long time.
LYNN: And I’ve got good news for you Jackie. What you’re talking about, for our applications (farming and commercial rides), may be a bad habit but there are people who will pay a premium for that team because of that habit. In other words, the way you’ve identified them; they’ll stand quiet, you hook them, they are good to be around. When you ask them to go, they go as if they have to put every ounce of energy in it to pull this load. There are people that when you demonstrate that to them they’ll pay you for those horses. I don’t know what the market is like right now in the Northwest but there are places like the Great Lakes Region where, if that behavior is coupled with muscular ability, you can get more for that team of horses than you can get for the team of horses you’d like to have.
DOUG: Another thing is, that in a time of uncertainty, confusion, stress, one too many stimuli, that team even if you get them working the way you would like them to work, in those kinds of situations they are apt to revert to this more familiar longer-term behavior. Another thing I’ll add is I think that sometimes we’re not taking advantage of every opportunity when we take a team like that, or any other habit we’re trying to work through, and reschool them on. Commonly what will happen is a person, when they’re working that team without the public, just to try to get them reschooled, they run them with an empty wagon. Then they’ll put, how many people do you haul, 20-30 people? Then when the chips are down, when the crowd is there, when the excitement and the stimuli are a little higher, then they get the load. So if you put a load on that wagon that equals the 20-30 people you haul and then put lots of hours and lots of miles, that’s better, in my opinion, than running them with an empty wagon and then adding a load when you really need them to work at their best. I still agree with what’s said down here at the other end of the table, that if I were in your situation and I ran a business like that, I’d be looking for another team because I don’t think, just from what little you’ve told us, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think the effort and the time compared to the results that you’re probably going to get, and the dependability, would be worth my time and effort.
JOHN: And when Doc says a lot of time and miles he’s not talking about five or six, he’s talking hundreds. Marching, Marching.
DOUG: I’m hoping to live long enough to get it done.
MORRIS: He’s talking about marching every day.
DOUG: Carl you had a question before the break.
CARL from the audience: This is all new to me. I never owned a team until prior to about a year ago and I bought a nice team out of Illinois, well broke. The guys used them all the time, almost every day. He pulled a wagon with them regularly, three or four times a week, no problems with anything, but when I get home I want to hook onto a mowing machine and I was just wondering if there is anything that anybody can tell me that might make that go a little smoother. I don’t know what to expect. I was looking at the horse and that sycle bar behind. Is there anything that I should do to try to get them ready, something that might help them?
AMY: Do you have somebody down there near you that has a team that they mow with?
CARL: No, I’m it.
AMY: A lot of times if you take and just hook your team to a forecart or wagon or whatever and ride them along behind somebody else mowing, that gets them used to the sound without it being behind them where it is really scary.
JOHN: You’re by yourself then?
JOHN: A lot of times what I would do in that situation and I felt that that team was broke and I was constantly with them. I would hook them to that mower in a pasture thats got no grass. Okay. And once I got them hooked I’d ask them to step forward one step. And then I’d ask them to back up one step and get the ratchet pawl to click, then maybe I’d sit there and talk to them, then maybe step them forward three steps and then I’d back up three steps and get that ratchet working. If everything goes good, I’d probably put it in gear and ask them to take one step. Little baby steps and if they keep taking it, you keep adding it and if nothing goes wrong and they don’t get hurt, you haven’t hurt their confidence in you. And at one point you say, okay, lets go mow, if I was all by myself.
JOYCE: Have they been hooked to steel wheeled implements of any kind?
CARL: On a chuck wagon for a while.
JOYCE: So they’re used to noise behind them. Sometimes the vibration will be a little more too.
CARL: I’m sure it’s going to be a little different for them. I don’t want that first lap to be a disaster.
MIKE: I was just going to comment on the same thing. I think one of the things that people forget about is the chatter, the feeling. No matter how new or well oiled your machine is it chatters. The end of the tongue is going to vibrate the whole day. That’s something new to most of them, that they’ve never had that feel on the neck and to the top of the neck all the way, cause that chatter is transmitted throughout the whole contraption but not only just the noise but now there’s a different feel to that. I guess safety, having a paralyzed brother-in-law, and having him do all kinds of things, that our level of safety consciousness is way high. I would just encourage, if anyway possible, to find another person to be on the ground the day you start. And if you don’t have another person my better judgment says don’t go there. Okay. In my opinion there is no excuse for not having one person try to be at the front and the back of the team at the same time. And obviously, the danger of a mower is the right side and the stuff that goes along with the sickle bar. Put your dog in the kennel and tie up your kittens because they want to come out and see what’s going on too. I’ve taught my kids how to mow hay and the cardinal sin is don’t get off the seat with it in gear. And that probably goes without saying but that’s often forgotten. You get a ball-up on top there that keeps the horses weaving into the grass line and all of a sudden you need to undo a ball up, well, guess what, if it’s in gear things come up missing. So, that’s just in a nutshell where I’d go: A) don’t do it by yourself, it isn’t worth the energy, and B) that sickle bar is to be respected at all cost.
REID: When you said somebody else on the ground, you mean like somebody besides on the horses head with a lead rope?
MIKE: It’s amazing to me, and we start a bunch of horses every year on a mower, and it’s amazing to me how much safety a horse feels if somebody is in front of the blinders. They can be five feet out and five feet ahead, but horses are conditioned like everything else to trust somebody at their head. We start colts and sometimes the first few steps are in fact tedious but you don’t want to just take off and pretend you’re going to go the full distance to the next corner. You kick it in gear and you let it rattle a little bit and you know that just after you kick it you’re going to stop again. And their ears are going to go up and some of them they don’t really care and you know the second and third step and you’re off and running, but a couple of them are going to have a whole lot of adjusting. If you want somebody to be a hold of them with a lead rope, that’s fine. Left hand horse is a no brainer, the right hand horse, don’t do it. At no time would you walk out in the grass with a colt in front of a sycle mower. Don’t go there!
AMY: I wouldn’t go out there with any horse.
JOHN: So, if you think a lead rope is necessary, that’s fine, but there’s a whole lot of safety in just being up front and you get a hold of the outside line, you get a hold of whatever, there’s just a lot of safety having someone there.
LYNN: If it’s new to you and it’s new to them you’ve got a whole bunch of stuff running against you. Those of us who have done it for a very long time take a lot of things for granted. We probably can’t even tell you all the things that our antennas are reading, in other words, something’s not right here, stop for a second, oh, this strap isn’t right. All kinds of little things that we’re picking up on that have the system working properly. What I want to do is draw a line through as many things on the safety check list that are going to be brand new and bothersome to the horses. How many things can I get off that list? Like Mike said, the vibration that’s there that they feel, it’s telegraphed, is one thing we can’t really set up for unless we do it with a different implement, but we literally drive the team, the novice team, right behind the mower that’s operating so they’re watching the cutter bar, they’re listening to that and seeing all the vibrations. After following the cutter bar we go to the side of that mower when it’s working. They are beside it while it’s working, then we take them off in front of it so they are getting a tactile sense of sounds and motions and so forth all the way around and we do that until their ears get relaxed and we’re walking along quiet and then, in the field, we take the experienced team off the mower. Take this team off the wagon or fore cart and switch the teams right there. We have drawn a line through a whole bunch of things on our check list that could bother them. Now what they have to deal with is the vibration. In all the times we’ve done this preconditioning routine we’ve never had a team break into a trot or even try to. They may raise their head for the first step of two but they walk off nice. And the really good horses appreciate what we’ve done. They seem to sense that you’ve taken the time to just say okay, this is stuff that’s going to bother you. But if you have no experience or limited experience and you’re going to climb on the seat of a machine that could need some attention, the machine itself, and that’s new to you, and the horses haven’t been there and it’s new to them, it seems to me like you have every possible thing that could go wrong still on that list with no line through it. And you’re betting against yourself. I know it sounds odd and we tell this to people all the time, we say okay, find somebody near you who can be there, who’s experienced. And we hear from folks, like I mentioned earlier this morning, say, well, there’s nobody near me, there’s just nobody near me.
Let us look in our directory for you. You might be surprised who might be right in that immediate area that could help you. You said Kernville? Merle Haggard drives a team doesn’t he?
REID in the audience: He moved. (laughter)
DOUG: Another thing is that if you don’t have another team to work that mower to get your team acclimated to, put them behind a mower being pulled by a tractor or truck. They aren’t going to have the comfort that the other team, working quietly and relaxed and comfortably would add to it but at least they will see and hear and become accustomed to some of things on that list Lynn was talking about and I agree one hundred percent with John, baby steps. Baby steps is a wonderful concept with horses. You know, their brains are designed to evaluate and assess everything in their environment. Their ancestral brains are a fright/flight animal and if you start piling new and different stimuli into that brain you’re going to pop a circuit at some point. So the more you can get them to become comfortable and relaxed and accepting of one little step or component of a task and then add another, and then add another, or not even add them, have them do one and then do just another aspect of it, and then another aspect unrelated perhaps and then start combining two or three of them. Even the pattern you’re going to work. If you go out there and run your pattern with a fore cart, you run it and get them really used to that atom so that at least they know where they are going, they’ve been over the ground, they know there is a gopher hole here and that the grouse flushes out this bush regularly and so forth and so on. Break it down, like John said. And I like to use visual and physical barriers. If I’ve got a situation, if a horse sees great big wide-open spaces and something excites them or stimulates them they’re just a reflex reaction from fleeing into that big space. That’s what they did for centuries and centuries to escape predators. If they’ve got a confined area, a big corral or arena, you don’t want it too small because then if something happens you don’t have enough room to deal with things before you hit an obstacle. But a visual barrier, if you’ve got one border of your field that is forested and if you are pointing those horses toward the forest, out in the field, but they’ve got a forest ahead of them, they don’t have that big space to try to move into to get away from. Solid fences, board fences, things like that can be used as visual barriers, to get them to stand for us, to get them to not want to hurry or flee or rush ahead quite so much.
LYNN: If it was possible for you, you had somebody near you with experience, and they had a team that was familiar with mowing, it would be worth money to you to ask them to come to your place and bring their team to your place and hook up to your mower and for you to walk along side them while they mow and maybe give them another five dollar bill to let you drive that team on the mower so that you get a sense of all of this, long before you put your horses on.
DOUG: Absolutely, that part. Making at least an experienced mower operator out of yourself would be the best insurance you could buy.
STEVE in the audience: When I started I didn’t have anybody to help me or anything so I put the mower to the tractor and had my wife drive and I made about two loops around the field so that I could become familiar with how the mower operated before I put the mules to it so that at least I wasn’t having to wrestle with their reflexes while I was trying to learn a new craft.
DOUG: We’re just like them. Baby steps work great for us. I use it in my workshops. My horses aren’t horses that really need a lot of baby steps any more but the students are. And this baby step stuff works just the same with us as it does with horses. Throw too many things at us and what happens? Our adrenalin level goes up and we start getting confused and then we get concerned and then we get excited and anxious. When adrenalin goes into the blood stream it take forty minutes to run its course, do its job and to get us or a horse settled back down and that’s assuming we don’t keep pumping it into the bloodstream.
DICK in the audience: Question for Doug. What are your feeling about using sedatives to calm the team. would it maybe speed up the process?
DOUG: Well, that’s a shortcut that I don’t like to use because I question how much they learn when we dull their senses and I want the horses to learn, I want them to experience and become comfortable with it. I’ve never been much in favor of it. A lot of farriers will want us to dispense sedatives, tranquilizers, things like that, and I’ve seen probably more of them get in trouble with it than what it’s helped them. Making these horses, taking the time and the baby steps and the repetition to teach horses and to get them to cooperate with us by choice I think is a better choice, but that’s just my personal opinion. I wish that I could remember who said it or where I heard it and you’ve probably all perhaps read it in one of my articles but once long ago I heard a quote that I really love and that is, “There are lots of shortcuts with horses, but there aren’t any good shortcuts with horses.” I think it pays to take the time to make ourselves comfortable and train ourselves, condition ourselves and do the same with our horses.
CARL (AUDIENCE): About the open space concept. If you’re going to want to get them used to being led behind the old pickup or wagon or something, if you had that in front of them would that have the same effect.
DOUG: It’s like the other team and wagon in front of Jackie’s team. They realize, they may try to pass and go around a couple of times but you hold them behind there and pretty soon they realize, what’s the rush? I can’t get past that thing, I might as well take it easy.
AUDIENCE: I’d like to add to that sedative thing. We tried that and it cost us double the time. No matter what we teach them when their senses are dulled when they wake up you have to start all over again. It didn’t work, at least for me.
LYNN: I bought six head of horses in Iowa at an auction in 1977, put them in my gooseneck trailer and came in three days from Iowa in a hurry home. A dear friend, now passed on, Herman Daniel, was helping me and he was an older master with the horses and we unloaded these horses there at the farm in Junction City and he was so excited. He said I’m going to take them out to the field right now. I just want to see how they drive. So we took the first three big red Belgian mares out, threw harness on them, and I was trying to take care of stuff. I’d just drove 2,000 miles. He took these horses immediately out to the field and started harrowing. He said they’re gorgeous, they’re beautiful. Come to find out these horses had run away every time they’d ever been hooked with the previous owner. We’d just traveled them 2,000 miles in the trailer, unloaded on occasion but they’d only spent one night in a pen, the rest of the time we were traveling, night and day, and took them out of the trailer and took them out to the field and they were completely docile.
Later on, back in the Midwest Michigan area, I was talking to horse pullers and this one guy who was really serious about icompetition said he always made sure that when he trailered his horses any distance to a pulling match, they had a day to rest before the match. Because he said if he came a 1000, 1500 miles in a trailer, took them out and had to go out in the pulling ring within the hour, they would not give their full effort, he said they’re just too docile. And I don’t know what the physiognomy is to that but I’ve seen that work, that if you disorient them and exhaust them, not necessarily from a working standpoint but just like riding in a trailer, that can give you flexibility but I’m not suggesting that you should use it. It just helps us to understand that horses can be affected that way.
Would that be considered a narcotic? Vacations are narcotics for people.
DOUG: You know how you feel when you’ve got jet lag? You don’t feel like doing much. Just kind of want to lie around and I think it is kind of a similar thing. With the old time horse tamers that we read about, from primarily the 1800’s era, there were a lot of them that came into the public eye and most of them used a process that they called subjection which was virtually over-powering the horses, oftentimes casting them to the ground and tying them down for a time, and it has a powerful affect on the horses mind. Taking away of their ability to flee, in ways that we do the same thing with a round pen, with a halter and lead rope. This has a tremendous, tremendous psychological affect on them. This tying them down has a similar affect. They come back up from that with a whole different relationship with us. I experienced this primarily because I had a hydraulic surgery table at the vet clinic that was kind of like a set of stocks with the back of it being a hydraulic table that stood up vertically. And we would put horses in there, put belly bands on and tie their head down and then hydraulically this whole thing would bind them down in a prone position, strap their feet and then I would do different procedures that I needed to do as a veterinarian. When you put a horse on that table, lay them down on their side, restricted their legs and their head and then lifted them back up, you didn’t have to do anything else to them. The first time we put a horse on it we were just learning how to use the table and I don’t care whether it’s a well-broke, gentle horse or it’s a raw colt who’s never had a halter on before, that process does an amazing mental transformation to them. I can foresee, I am projecting but I can see, where putting them in a horse trailer, confining them, taking away their ability to flee could have the same affect.
LYNN: Morris Elverud, you are a legend when it comes to training work horses. Would you prefer to have two year olds to train?
MORRIS: I’d just as soon have them 4 or 5 years old and untouched
LYNN: Doug Hammill,what would you charge for training a horse and what horse would you like to have?
DOUG: Well, I don’t put as much emphasis on age as far as my preference but I would much prefer to have a horse that hasn’t been touched as one that’s been spoiled. And it doesn’t have as much to do with who does the training because I’ve gotten horses that have been previously owned by people that do a very good job of training but they don’t do everything just the way I do, maybe they do a better job, but they do it a little different. I like to start out with a pure, unadulterated mind and the age doesn’t make as much difference to me as that. So the less that’s been done with the horse the more I like it.
DOUG: And I learned quite a long time ago you don’t have to make very many dollars an hour to make better money than you can charge to break horses. I don’t think people could pay me enough to put in the time. I love working with horses, I love working young horses, but to take a team in or a pair of young horses in and produce a driving team for people? I have other things that I can do that generate more income to support my livelihood.
AUDIENCE: With started horses, does it take a lot longer to get them trained than ones that have never been touched?
DOUG: There are a lot of people that can get their horse to be gentle but there aren’t a lot of people who can get their horse to respect them. And it takes both.
AUDIENCE: Do you discount “imprinting” foals at birth, where the owner gets to the foal early and gets it to accept him kind of like a family member?
DOUG: No, no not at all. Imprinting is a great technique.
LYNN: Would any of the others of you like to touch that question about what would be your preference of an animal to train and what would you charge?
DONNA: Well, the Andersons have enough horses of their own to break so we don’t break them. The majority of them we break in the winter before they turn three and the only training that they’ve had is when they’re colts. The winter before they turn three we break them into feeding cattle in the wintertime and the only thing we’ve done with them when we take them off the mares, when we wean them, that first winter they will spend around the barnyard, being tied in the barn and around the barnyard and then they’re turned out.
LYNN: What would you charge if you did?
DONNA: I think when I broke some mares, I think I charged him $300 a piece.
DOUG: I’ll tell you just sitting here and listening to these people knowing their qualifications and their prices, that these are the best bargains in the world right here.
AMY: I know that the going rate for training saddle horses is $400 to $600 a month plus board in most places right now.
DONNA: Their training horses out at $25.00 an hour and that means catching the horse, bringing it in, brushing it down and all that.
LYNN: I’m not sure that you could ever have a horse complete. In other words if he’s the smartest, best-trained horse in the world you couldn’t protect him from a fool.
JOHN: I could take an outside animal, and there’s been animals there that anybody could work with when they went back and when the owners knew their animals, I could do things with them but I know full well that the owners would never be able to do that. So sometimes those type of animals, knowing the capabilities of people when they came, I don’t think the owners would ever be able to handle them right. I knew that they were never going to get it, they had the attitude that – they saw him do it, I can do it and it’s not that way. It’s about your experience level and the animal’s level. A lot of them have personalities just like people and you have to work with that in mind.
DOUG: I would encourage people if they take a horse to someone to have it trained to then, once that job is done, pay a little extra to have yourself trained with the horse.
DAN: Very good, that’s a big point.
LYNN: I was going to ask Dan Kintz, but anybody here on the panel or in the audience should jump in with thoughts, this is a question that somebody called in to me. ‘Can I make a decent living logging with horses today?’
DAN: If you can find a job. There’s not that much horse logging sales come up any more. There used to be. Some private guys do some horse logging.
LYNN: So the challenge is the timber marketplace good, not necessarily the horses?
DAN: Both, the market ain’t there and they aint’ turning that much over. The boys did some last winter in the park up there at Silver Falls with horses.
LYNN: So to expand on that Dan, with your lifetime experience, do you have a figure in your head? Do you figure when you’re not falling trees, you’re just skidding, and things are the way they’ve been would you figure that the average board footage per week for you and a team is 3000 board foot, 5000 board foot, 15,000 board foot. Do you have a number in the back of your head? Just skidding logs.
DAN: You should be able to skid at least 4 or 5000 feet a day.
MORRIS: That changes dramatically; it depends on the timber and the lay of the land.
DAN: Your length of timber and your length of yard.
LYNN: There’s an interface problem with what you’re talking about; if you can find the job. Because of what we do with the Journal on occasion we’re contacted by the Forest Service or the BLM or a private people saying, ‘I can’t find a horse logger. I want to get this done, I want to test this, or I need to get this done or experiment with this and we can’t find people to do it.’ And I don’t know how to answer that challenge.
How would they find, locally, a horse logger?
DAN: Word of mouth.
JOHN: Tell the Forest Service people in your area. You’ve got to get the word out that you’re there. The hardest job is not moving the timber; the hardest is getting a job that’s the right size, and to be able to do the calculations and sale. The buying and selling is the hardest. That’s what makes or breaks you.
AUDIENCE: On log sales for personal, say they’ve got a piece of ground and they want to pull some logs off it, they don’t want machinery, they want the horses. You still have to go through permitting just so you can get the okay to be able log it, then you’ve got to find the mill that will buy the logs, it’s not as easy as it seems.
DAN: Your own timber, you’ve got to get a permit from the government to cut it and they’ve got to come out and have a cruised. It’s not like it used to be.
LYNN: What’s the difference between a show draft horse or mule working in a big hitch and the characteristics of a plow horse. In other words, Donna, you’re plowing with horses and your showing them in the ring. Now we’re talking about those judges who placed you according to the height of your horses, as much as anything else. Is a plow horse a good horse to drive in the show ring?
DONNA: Well, obviously my answer would be yes, because that’s what we do with ours. We hitch them and we work them and we don’t see any difference and, as you can tell, the judges might not have cared much for our horses and maybe you could tell it didn’t affect Melvin (Anderson – Donna’s father) much. He raised the kind of horses he liked and that’s the key thing. I had somebody come to me at Sandpoint. They said, Donna I want you to come and look at my horses and tell me what you think of them. Well, I looked at them and they said they wondered if they should get rid of them or not. I said well, do you like them? That, to me is the question, do you like them. Maybe if you have pride in them, you like working around them, you like the way they look, you like the way they travel, then that’s the horse for you, it’s not my opinion or the judges. I mean we’ve gone to a lot of shows between Monroe and Sandpoint and down to Eugene and a lot of times we come back with no trophies, but we usually come back with the crowd really liking our horses. And to us that is what we go for.