Dr. Doug Hammill D.V.M.

Ask a Teamster A Common Collar Fitting Challenge

Ask A Teamster: A Common Collar Fitting Challenge

I’m trying to fit a collar to a new horse I just got and I can’t seem to get it right. It seems close to fitting but the problem is it’s too tight on the sides a few inches below his mane, but it fits okay on the sides down lower. I’m also not sure how it should fit at the bottom of his neck above his chest. I see some horses that have a lot of space there and others with the collar almost touching the bottom of the neck. My guess is it’s a little too long there.

Ask A Teamster Bridle Safety

Ask A Teamster: Bridle Safety

I am always seeking to learn, trying new things, and experimenting in an effort to make what we do with horses and how we do it safer and better. Since I wrote the previous article I’ve learned about a type of driving bridle design which has a crown piece and throatlatch system that is very different from the traditional driving bridles we use in this country. The bridles are specifically designed to prevent them from being rubbed off or pulled off over the horse’s ears. They are based on a design used for some Australian stockmen’s bridles.

Ask A Teamster Bridling a Horse

Ask a Teamster: Bridling a Horse

Horses always have what they consider “good reasons” for what they do or don’t do. Their reasons and choices may not seem like good reasons or choices to us, but in their minds the horses are positive they have good reasons and choices. Our job is not to argue with them about their choice or the reason for it, but to give them a better reason to make the choice we prefer or need them to make. Unless we can softly and gently offer them what they consider to be better options, and at the same time consistently create gentle and effective consequences when necessary, we cannot expect their behavior to improve – and most often it will get worse.

Ask A Teamster Driving

Ask A Teamster: Driving

I have been questioned (even criticized) about my slow, gentle, repetitious approach “taking too much time” and all the little steps being unnecessary when one can simply “hitch ‘em tied back to a well-broke horse they can’t drag around, and just let ‘em figure it out on their own.” I try to give horses the same consideration I would like if someone was teaching me how to do something new and strange.

Ask A Teamster Halters Off

Ask A Teamster: Halters Off!

When my friend and mentor, the late Addie Funk, first started helping me with my horses, he suggested that we get rid of my halter ropes with snaps and braid lead ropes on to all the halters permanently. Actually as I think about it, it was more than a suggestion. Knowing him, he probably just braided the new ropes on, confident that anyone with any sense would be pleased with the improvement. In any case, when the task was completed I clearly remember him saying to me, “Now nobody will turn a horse loose around here with a halter on.”

Ask A Teamster Hauling Horses

Ask A Teamster: Hauling Horses

For a claustrophobic animal like the horse, being confined to a small box while speeding down the highway at 60 miles per hour is a mighty unnatural experience. Luckily, equines are adaptable animals and are likely to arrive in good condition – if – you make preparations beforehand and take some precautions. Here are some tips to help your horse stay healthy, safe, and comfortable while traveling.

Ask A Teamster Headstrong Mustang Onion

Ask A Teamster: Headstrong Mustang Onion

You have just a few situations where Onion, being the great teacher that all horses are, is providing you with some real challenges. In doing so she is merely fulfilling the preordained destiny of all horses. Yes! It’s as though all horses have a mutant gene that enables them to link up telepathically with our horsemanship skills cortex, whereupon they have instant and complete knowledge of the limitations and vulnerability of our personal equine skills. Then, having been born into this earthly existence for the sole purpose of forcing us to evolve into better horsemen and horsewomen, they begin challenging us well beyond our limits (usually after a strategic period of allowing us successes that falsely inflate our self-confidence and egos).

Ask A Teamster Helping Horses Learn a New Job

Ask A Teamster: Helping Horses Learn a New Job

Dear Miriam, it sounds like you have a nice team and are doing well with them. I’m thankful you contacted me rather than assume that your team, with a history of only carriages and wagons, would be able to handle an abrupt and sudden change to farm equipment. The reality is that they might accept the unfamiliar noise, vibration, and other differences just fine. On the other hand, they are equines, and being so are prone to becoming concerned, stressed out, and overwhelmed by things unfamiliar – especially things that move and make noise. The very nature of equines as a timid fright/flight animal causes them to be predictably suspicious and fearful. It is always best and safest to introduce anything new or different to them very carefully and gradually.

Ask A Teamster Horse Don't Won't Can't Turn

Ask A Teamster: Horse Don’t, Won’t, Can’t Turn

After moving the drop ring on the other side down we went out to the round pen for a test drive. The difference in how she ground drove and turned was amazing – not perfect, but real sweet. With the lines at that level a right turn cue on the line obviously meant go right to her, and a left turn cue meant left. After we drove around for a while with me smiling I couldn’t resist moving the drop rings back up to the line rings – Bam, back to the old confusion.

Ask A Teamster Intramuscular Injections

Ask A Teamster: Intramuscular Injections

“Can you give your horse intramuscular injections?” When I ask this question it is usually in an attempt to have the client participate in the treatment of their animal. Why do I encourage these individuals to become competent at giving injections? Our aim is top quality preventive and therapeutic care for the horse, at the least expense to the owner. Some horse persons have no desire to give their animals injections, preferring to leave that task to the professionals. Others are anxious to participate for various reasons.

Ask A Teamster Intro to Skidding

Ask A Teamster: Intro to Skidding

When you have determined that your trace chains are long enough or have modified them to be so, you are ready to experiment with how much to shorten them up when pulling various loads on the ground. When your mules are ready to pull a load it’s best to hook the chains shorter for the pull. Properly shortening the trace chains to put the load closer to the animal(s) can maximize draft advantage and create upward lift on the front end of the log(s) – so they don’t dig into the ground as much and pull harder. The reason trace chains can be shorter when skidding a load than when simply dragging just a singletree or team rigging is because the resistance of a the load causes the singletrees/rigging to lift up off the ground allowing some clearance beneath for the rear feet.

Ask A Teamster Kicking into a Quarter Strap

Ask A Teamster: Kicking into a Quarter Strap

When a team is properly hitched to a tongue and positioned so there is a little tension on the traces, the holdback system (pole strap, quarter straps, and breeching) will contact the horse throughout their length, but not be snug. If this system is adjusted too loosely, which is quite common, the quarter straps will hang down away from the belly. Before considering other factors be sure the breeching is not adjusted too low – very common. It’s difficult to get the quarter straps up against the flank and belly if the breeching is not up where it belongs. Slack quarter straps can be raised by hooking the trace chains shorter at the single trees. However, be certain that doing so leaves enough distance between the horses hind legs and the single trees so that the legs don’t hit the single trees under any circumstances.

Ask A Teamster Learning Gee and Haw

Ask A Teamster: Learning Gee and Haw

Teaching horses to swing right (“gee” – to remember, right has a “g” in it) or left (“haw”) without moving forward (or backward) can actually be quite easy with some patience, finesse, timing and cheating. I recommend waiting to teach gee and haw until a young horse has some experience and is working well in other respects, as yours seems to be. In my opinion, horses that will not stand quietly and patiently for grooming, harnessing, and hitching are not ready to be hitched and driven. By the same token, if they don’t consistently start, stop, turn both ways, back up and stand stopped in a comfortable, relaxed and willing manner, I feel they are not yet ready for gee and haw.

Ask A Teamster Neckyokes

Ask A Teamster: Neckyokes

I always chain or otherwise secure slip-on type neckyokes to the tongue so they don’t come off and cause an accident. Neckyokes unexpectedly coming off the tongue have caused countless problems, the likes of which have caused injuries, psychological damage, and even death to horses, and to people as well. Making sure the neckyoke is chained or otherwise secured to the tongue every time you hitch a team is a quick and easy way of eliminating a number of dangerous situations.

Ask A Teamster Round Pen Training

Ask A Teamster: Nervous Horse

Your horse Frank seems typical of the many horses that I work with and hear about that have learned to associate humans (and certain things humans do with and to them) with psychological and/or physical discomfort. Whenever a horse is not comfortable with things we do around them or ask them to do on the ground, we need to resolve those issues on the ground, not in harness or under saddle. When things are not going well in harness and we cannot get our horses to maintain or return promptly to a state of comfort, relaxation, willingness, and compliance, I feel it is imperative to go back to basic ground work and build a stronger more complete foundation of trust, respect, and accepting us as their kind, gentle and yet assertive leader.

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

Ask A Teamster Positioning of the Breeching

Ask A Teamster: Positioning of the Breeching

The breeching (also brichen) is a component of the hold back system. It permits a horse or team to slow down, hold back, stop, or back up the load when they are hitched in shafts or to a tongue. It’s critical that the breeching be adjusted at the proper height and angle for safety, proper function, and comfort of the horse.

Ask A Teamster Putting On the Feed Bag

Ask A Teamster: Putting On the Feed Bag

For over 40 years I’ve had very little trouble with horses spilling and wasting grain by tipping over containers or letting it fall from their mouth as they chew. Nor have I had a horse destroy a feeder or become injured on one. This is because I feed grain and/or concentrates in nose bags. I first started using traditional canvas nose bags on saddle and pack horses. Later I made draft horse size nose bags out of army surplus canvas buckets. When synthetic mesh bags became available I gave them a try, and later received a cavalry style nose bag as a gift from a friend.

Ask A Teamster Round Pen Training

Ask A Teamster: Round Pen Training

When we ask a horse to follow us in the round pen we can help him succeed by varying things a bit – changing direction and speed frequently, stopping periodically to reward him with a rub (“a rub” or two, not 100), picking up a foot, playing with his tail/ears/mouth, etc. In other words, working at desensitizing or sensitizing him by simulating things he will experience in the future (trimming and shoeing, crupper, bridle over the ears, bit, etc.).

Ask A Teamster Securing the Neckyoke

Ask a Teamster: Securing the Neckyoke

With most common types of team harness the neckyoke is an essential component of both the steering and hold back systems. In addition to holding the tongue up, neckyokes permit the horses to pull/push the end of the tongue with them as they move right or left, thus steering the vehicle or implement. As part of the hold back system neckyokes function by transferring the – slowing, stopping, backing, and holding back the load – actions of the horses to the tongue, and thus to the vehicle or equipment.

Ask A Teamster Ten Common Wrecks With Driving Horses

Ask A Teamster: Ten Common Wrecks with Driving Horses

One of the things I’ve learned over time is that the truly great teamsters rarely – if ever – have upset horses, close calls, mishaps or wrecks, while the less meticulous horsemen often do. Even though it may take a few minutes longer, the master teamsters constantly follow a series of seemingly minute, endlessly detailed, but always wise safety tips. Here are 10 of them:

Ask A Teamster The Bit

Ask A Teamster: The Bit

I work at a farm that uses their team of Percherons to farm, give hayrides, spread manure, etc. One of the horses gets his tongue over the bit. I’ve been told he’s always done this since they had him. I have always thought: #1. You have very little control, and #2. It would hurt! The horse is very well behaved, does his work with his tongue waving in the air, and sometimes gets his tongue back in place, but at that point it’s too late. They use a snaffle bit. Any suggestions?

Ask A Teamster The Stick

Ask A Teamster: The Stick

I commend you, first for being concerned about these seemingly minor infractions, and second for not wishing to jeopardize what your mares are doing well. If for no other reason, safety requires that our horses obey our commands to stop, and do so promptly. We can certainly have a wreck going backwards with horses, just as we can going forwards. Seemingly insignificant, little sloppinesses like you’ve described have a way, sooner or later, of escalating into significant problems, or causing a wreck. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – is perhaps never more appropriate than when working with horses.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

Ask A Teamster Trouble Backing a Team

Ask A Teamster: Trouble Backing a Team

I am in need of professional advice. Recently I had a bad experience with my team as I was backing them away from where I harness on my way to hitch to the forecart. Their back ends got farther and farther apart as they came back and all of a sudden Ben turned inward and came straight at me. The lines became tangled and were pulling on Molly’s mouth. She flew back the other way jerking Ben’s bit and hurting him. My friend got to Molly’s head and I stopped Ben before anything worse happened but they were very upset and almost got away. When I back them up they often spread apart in back but I never lost control before. What can I do to keep this from happening again?

Ask A Teamster Who's the Boss part 1

Ask A Teamster: Who’s the Boss? part 1

For horses being part of a group and interacting with others in the group is very important for comfort and safety. It is natural and important for horses to both rely on a leader and to have trusted companionship. We can be a friend and companion to our horses, but only if we earn and keep their trust. One of the primary principles and goals of Natural Horsemanship is 100% trust (others are 100% respect and 0% fear). It’s relatively easy to gain a horse’s trust if we use their language and logic and play by horse rules rather than trying to communicate and behave in ways that are natural and seem logical to us as humans.

Ask A Teamster Who's the Boss part 2

Ask A Teamster: Who’s the Boss? part 2

One of the primary goals of natural horsemanship is to get our horses to trust us 100 percent. Great horsemen and horsewomen throughout history have known that in order to become truly and completely accepted as a friend, companion, boss, leader, and/or trainer to any equine we must first gain the animal’s trust. In his book, Colt Training, Jesse Beery, the famous 19th century horse gentler/trainer, author, and founder of the Jesse Beery School of Horsemanship states, “The first lesson we give a colt is simply to teach it to have confidence in us and that we are its best friend and don’t intend to hurt it.”

Ask A Teamster Wolf Teeth

Ask A Teamster: Wolf Teeth

The problem resulting from wolf teeth are due to the bit hammering on them or bouncing over them and banging into the much larger premolar teeth behind. This causes varying degrees of aggravation and pain to the animal. The problems that result range from minor irritation (often unapparent due to the wonderful and tolerant nature of many horses and mules) to dangerous reactions and behavior.