Training Pack Animals

Training Pack Animals

Prepared under direction of The Quartermaster General
J.L. Hines, Major General, Chief of Staff

This material comes from a four page military training pamphlet distributed between the two World Wars. Our original has no illustrations, we added what you see here. The tone of this reads almost as if purely a reminder of procedure, although there are a few interesting points. Understanding the rigors of these procedures does go some distance to explain how an institution such as the US War Department (precedes the Defense Dept.) needed to devise formulas for many novice animals and even more novice men. SFJ

Pack animals easily trained. – Animals of suitable age, size, and conformation will ordinarily give little trouble and with systematic training and kind treatment will soon develop into excellent pack animals. Horses are usually preferable for use as pack animals which are led in accompanying commands mounted on horses, as they lead more freely than mules and their gaits conform better to those of the horses of the command. When not led and when worked in large numbers mules are usually preferable as they are more easily managed than horses under these conditions and superior as weight carriers.

Some pack animals trained to saddle. – A few pack animals should be trained to the saddle in order that a replacement may be available for temporarily disabled saddle animals. Riding animals, for use of the personnel of animal drawn and pack transportation who are individually mounted, should be trained in accordance with the methods prescribed for training remounts.

Exercise in marching under loads necessary. – A reasonable amount of marching under loads is very beneficial to pack animals, therefore they should be thus exercised 6 days per week, beginning with distances of about 5 miles and compact loads of about 200 pounds and gradually increasing distance and bulk and weight of load until a march of 20 miles is attained with each animal carrying a load, of average bulk, weighing 250 pounds. This work quiets, strengthens, and develops the animals, and facilitates their training, therefore it should be taken up as soon as they can be loaded with quietness and continued throughout their training. Development of the back muscles and hardening them so that the animals can carry heavy loads over long distances comes with time and is a natural result of systematic exercise under loads. This conditioning of backs can not be hurried. Long marches under heavy loads made before the animals are in condition will retard rather than hasten conditioning and will usually develop bunches or injuries, requiring animals to go on sick report.

Training the bell horse. – A gelding is preferable for use as a bell horse. He should be about 15 hands, 2 inches in height, and weigh about 1,050 pounds and be of conformation which will permit him to travel freely on the road. A very heavy draft type is objectionable, due to inability to travel well, and a very light type is unable to hold the animals to the rigging. The bell horse should be gentle and permit itself to be approached and caught up when it is loose and should also be led freely both by dismounted and mounted men. Difficulty in leading is usually confined to pulling back or forging ahead. The former may be corrected by the use of the war bridle or by having a man follow the animal with a whip for a few lessons, using it in case the animal pulls back, while the use of a bridle with snaffle bit, combined with a soothing tone of voice and patting, will usually correct the latter.

Training pack animals to receive the aparejo and load. – Four experienced men give the first lessons. One holds the animal by its halter shank, one stands in front of it with a basin of oats from which it is permitted to feed from time to time, while two men put on and adjust the rigging and load. The animal is led to the rigging where it is shown and allowed to smell of the various parts of the equipment, after which the blind is put on, the corona and blanket placed in position, and the aparejo placed upon them. Special care must be taken when first placing the crupper in position and when cinching. If the animal stands quietly it is patted and given some oats, after which the aparejo is removed, the lesson repeated, and a light, compact load is slung and lashed in position. The blind is removed and the animal is turned loose in the corral for about an hour. It is then caught up and the load and aparejo removed, after which the lesson is repeated. While loaded animals that are loose in the corral at least two men should be with them to prevent them from lying down and to keep their loads in order.

Training pack animals to follow the bell. – Pack animals should be turned loose in the corral for a few days with the bell horse, during which period they form an attachment for it. Horses do not form this attachment, but mules do so in a short time and some to such extent as to be objectionable. Some will remain constantly beside the bell horse so as to worry it and even prevent its grazing while on herd. After a few days with the bell horse no difficulty is experienced in getting pack mules to follow the bell.

Training pack animals to maintain single column on trails. – Pack animals should be taught to march in single column on trails, and to facilitate their training, roads or open country where many of them can move abreast of each other should be avoided. If habitually marched in open country, where they can pass each other frequently, trouble will be experienced when working on trails which is really the domain of pack transportation. To train pack animals to maintain the formation one man follows in rear of every fifth one and keeps them in single closed column.

Training pack animals to maintain proper gaits. – The best gaits for pack animals are the walk of about 4 miles per hour and the amble of about 5 miles per hours. The trot or gallop are exceptional gaits for pack animals and such gaits derange the loads and fatigue the animals. The trot may be taken for short distances with light loads. The gallop with average loads is taken only in emergency and can be maintained for only very short distances. In training, the pace of the walk should be extended and in their endeavor to keep up with the bell horse pack animals will frequently break into the amble for a few steps and they thus become gradually confirmed in this gait. In emergency, cinches may be placed forward so as to chafe the animal’s fore legs when it trots and thus shorten the trot to the amble. This is an extreme measure and should be limited to short periods.

Training pack animals to line up to rigging. – New pack animals should be practiced in running to rigging at least four times daily during their early training and twice daily thereafter. For the first few lessons feed covers should be stretched on the top of the line of rigging and a few oats placed upon them.

Training difficult pack animals. – Difficulties which have special reference to pack animals are: Animals which will not receive or bear the aparejo and load quietly; those which are wild and hard to catch; those which will not bear the cincha; and those which pitch and lie down and attempt to roll with the rigging or load.

  • a. The twitch or war bridle may be used for animals which will not receive the aparejo, or they may be snubbed to a solid post by using a strong rope which is tied about the neck and then run through the halter ring, or they may be cross snubbed to 2 posts by use of 2 ropes, or a hind leg may be taken up by use of a rope ? inch in diameter and about 30 feet in length. The rope may be passed directly around the leg, but as there is a probability of the animal being rope burned in this way it is preferable to use a strap about 2 inches wide and 9 inches long which is fitted with a ‘D’ ring at each end. This strap fits about the pastern, and the rope runs through the ‘D’ rings. One end of the rope is tied in a loop about the animal’s neck so as to fit loosely near the shoulders. The other end is run through one of the ‘D’ rings on the strap and brought forward. Another rope is then run through the other ‘D’ ring and the strap allowed to slip down to the pastern. The rope is hauled upon until the leg is brought well forward, after which it is made fast to the neck loop.
  • b. There are 2 situations presented by pack animals which are hard to catch.
    1. Animals which are wild when naked in the corral. – Such animals should be equipped with the war bridle to which a rope about 100 feet in length is attached and allowed to drag. One man approaches the animal quietly and gets hold of the end of the rope, and then says, “Come here,” and gives the rope a pull, and 1 or 2 men take position in rear of the animal and speak to it, or use a whip in obstinate cases, forcing the animal to approach the first man, who folds in the rope as it approaches. The animal is then patted, stroked, and given some oats, after which it is turned loose and the lesson repeated several times. In especially difficult cases it may be necessary to use hobbles on such animals for a few days.
    2. Animals which are hard to catch when marching under loads. – A few lessons with the war bridle will usually give results, but it may be found necessary to tie the animal by its halter shank for a few days to another animal which is quiet, or to the bell horse.
  • c. For animals which can not bear the cincha a special set-up of rigging should be used in which the sticks are smaller and more limber.
  • d. Pitching is usually confined to animals which have the aparejo placed on them for the first time. The use of the war bridle or twitch will usually give good results. Special effort should be made to prevent animals from throwing off the aparejo or load before same is secured in place, as to do so will cause them to repeat the attempt. Lying down with a load on is usually confined to new animals or those which are very tired. This may be corrected by use of limber rigging with lightened loads, cinchas but moderately tightened, and keeping the animals in motion.
Training Pack Animals

aparejo: the Spanish term for a saddle, or pack saddle, which employs moss or hay stuffed leather pads which come into contact with the equine and soften the load.

cincha: Spanish term for webbed girth strap or cinch.

line of rigging: refers to ‘picket line’ used to tie off individual animals at night.

remount: as pertains to the US Cavalry and its ‘remount service’. Also may be used to denote a ‘fresh’ horse.