The Four Corners Driving School
by Colin Henderson of El Sagrado Farm, La Jara, CO
If you want to learn to drive horses from a master and are blessed to live in the Four Corners area (where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah come together), or have been meaning to take a trip to this magical high desert region, I recommend you call Chuck Baley at the Four Corners Driving School. Several years ago we did just that and he has been instrumental in helping us integrate driving horses into our farming operation.
Lynn Miller has always strongly recommended finding a mentor when learning to drive horses, but finding an experienced competent trainer in this day and age can be a daunting obstacle. My wife, Karen, and I have a 300-acre farm and raise Navajo Churro sheep, alfalfa, various grains, and in the past have grown vegetables for a 100 family CSA. We bought a team of Belgian draft horses and ended up having a series of runaways, which humbled us mightily. We were stuck. We called Chuck Baley and explained our dilemma. He agreed to come over to our farm and help us out.
We learned right away the first thing we needed to do was slow down. Chuck is methodical. He talks slowly. He started by teaching us how to adjust and fix our harness. He drilled us on these basics along with ground driving repeatedly. I was itching to get out and do some “real driving,” but that wasn’t going to happen until we were really comfortable, almost bored with these fundamentals. We learned that every detail is important. Through repetition and guidance we began to physically memorize the feel of the correct tension in the lines, the order of putting on the harness, the habit of safety-checking the harness, of attending to the mood of the horses… Learning these things thoroughly up front helped build up a foundation that became imprinted in our muscles and our minds so that as we progressed these skills became second nature. Don’t get me wrong, Chuck is all about getting people up to speed and out driving, but he’s going to stick with one thing until the student is both knowledgeable and comfortable before moving on.
Chuck Baley grew up in Golden City, Missouri. His father had a farm and they raised corn, hogs, and chickens. They had a team of black Percherons and various other horses that came and went as his father was a bit of a horse trader. He started driving the team of Percherons when he was very young. Chuck says it made him feel important taking the lines while his dad was picking corn but says “I wasn’t really driving at all – that team was trained to voice commands so my dad was really driving them from the ground while he was working. But I didn’t know and I sure enjoyed it!”
When he was eight, his father died and he went to live with his uncle in Nebraska. His uncle was a rancher and put up all his hay with draft horses and fed the cattle with them in the winter. There was a lot of hard work and horses became a big part of his life and have remained so to this day. He has been driving teams of horses for over sixty years.
After a three-year stint in the Navy between 1956-1959 he returned home. He worked on ranches, at rodeos, and loved running chuck wagon races driving four horses around obstacle courses at high speeds. He started working for Joe Koltz who had a driving school and eventually took over the school when Joe died. This became the Four Corners Driving School.
Chuck has been there for us every time we needed to take the next step in our training. When I wanted to start driving a horse and buggy to work, I called him to ask his advice. Not long afterwards, Chuck showed up with one of his friends who had used a horse and buggy exclusively for transportation for many years. They gave me all kinds of great advice including getting started with a “grandmother” horse (a horse that has been passed through an Amish family ultimately to an elder family member who valued an experienced dependable horse and didn’t mind going slowly!) So I bought Ranger, a Standard Bred, who was sixteen years old and he taught me to navigate intersections, snowplows, trains and busy traffic. Another time I called Chuck, I was quite upset. I had bought Julie, a six-yearold Belgian at an auction. She was rearing up when I was driving her and she had broken her harness while I was trying to disc our vegetable patch. Chuck calmly talked me down and explained Julie was just too “keen” for my skill level. I ended up trading her for another horse. It was hard to let her go, but the advice was sound and I avoided spoiling a perfectly good horse through my inexperience. I went to one of Lynn Miller’s “LAST MOWER REBUILDING WORKSHOPS” and rebuilt my McCormick-Deering sickle bar mower. Chuck came over and taught me how to mow hay safely with the horses. When our new colt, Pioneer, was ready to start his training, Chuck suggested we tie him to his mom’s side while we were bucking bales and bringing them in with the horses. He came to the farm; the first day we harnessed and drove Pioneer. (Now Pioneer is a fantastic worker and such a sweetheart!) This spring I’m hoping Chuck will come over and help me learn how to plow as I’ve only plowed one time and never with my two-way plow.
When Chuck first came over many years ago now, I asked him how much I owed him for the weekend of teaching. “Hmmm…” he said, “How much do you think it’s worth? What ever you think, that will be just fine.” I had no idea, so he helped me figure that out (the teaching was priceless but that didn’t help me know how much to pay him!) Although I’d guess he needs to pay his bills like the rest of us, one gets the sense Chuck isn’t motivated by trying to make money, but rather by his love of draft horses and his dedication to sharing the craft of driving horses.
Chuck says every time you hitch up a team of horses you can learn from them if you pay attention. He is always studying a team’s reaction to every situation. He says. “When you drive, you are not just holding the lines … you have to be in constant contact with the team through the lines” … “The horses will tell you if they are not comfortable and if you listen and do what it takes to make them comfortable then you can avoid problems. That’s how I try to teach people.” Chuck has become both my mentor and a friend. I give thanks for that. Our life on the farm has been transformed by bringing horses into our day-to-day operations as working partners and members of the family. Chuck is available to help others and I can’t recommend him too highly.