Archive for the ‘Training horses’ Category

Big J’s been out in the Virginia woods for some real-world logging training with the rest of the working crew this month, along with Jason’s young gelding Chain; two beginners learning from the best, both men and experienced workhorses.

He’s posted photos on his FB page, the first of many, I hope.

J turned 10 on Sunday.  She’s in foal to Rudy, Ridgewind Farm’s standing stud; her third pregnancy that I know of.  I bought her and her daughter from a guy in Michigan two January’s ago and shipped them to Jason’s farm for training and, it was hoped, to be subsequently used by a couple of apprentices as a starter team.

They were two big, beautiful Suffolk mares completely herd-bound to each other, hardly even green-broke, and sorely in need of patient, constant handling to develop ground manners, as well as basic training as future workhorses.  They got lots of both, but the pair of young horseloggers needed a team to start their business long before my two girls were ready to pull their share of the load, so the original plan changed.

Then changed some more, last Fall, when we decided to split up the mother/daughter pair after realizing the 5-yr-old’s temperament – disruptive, flighty, nervous, and protective of her mother – would always  prevent the two from becoming a well-mannered, quiet, dependable team.   It’s a common problem with a pair of horses left to themselves as these two were, and the mother-daughter bond only makes it worse.

Another Biological Woodsman logging with Suffolks in southwestern Virginia took a liking to the bred young mare, an offer was made, and she has moved on to work for him and get him started as a Suffolk breeder.  And I’ll be looking for a big, broke Suffolk gelding next summer to match up with Big J, who is becoming a wonderful workhorse under Jason’s tutelage.

And so the months go by, and the work of training a horse to pull logs out of woods continues, as time and opportunity permits.   I am so very grateful for all the effort and care and experience that is going into this endeavor.   The hope is to have a well-trained team to begin with, when I move to the farm and start working in earnest on all that needs done.  I have a neglected forest to manage, trees to cut for barn timbers, and pastures to mow and maintain, just for starters.  My team of Suffolks will eventually do all the field and forest work, leaving the tractor to scoop manure and compost, lift heavy things, and provide power in the barnyard.  We’ll start slow and small, of course, and having a team trained by Jason to train me as I learn will be worth its weight in gold.

Lessons in the woods - resting is a reward


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  It takes a lot of time, effort and patience to train two big, beautiful, spoiled hay-eating machines to be actual workhorses.  There is nothing in either of my mares’ life experiences that prepared them for life on a working farm, being around other horses, noises and distractions, or doing anything other than lounging together in a big pasture and having grain and hay brought to them in abundance without any exchange of effort for it.

The transformation is being accomplished slowly, sometimes in small steps, sometimes in leaps and bounds – but it is happening.  This picture of 8-year-old Justice in harness, dragging fresh-plowed garden soil with a smiling Mel on the lines and Jason grinning as he removes the lead for the horse to take her first working steps, shows the progress they’re making and how pleased they are with it.  It choked me up a little when I first saw it, seeing the joy on their faces as they turned to show me through the camera how far they’ve come with the project of making these fine mares into workhorses for Mel and Adam to use.

I can see that horse’s mind working, too, which is the part of all this that I am the most in awe of.  This big, young mare has never done anything like this in her life – suited up in harness, responding to signals on the reins and bit and commands from the two-legged alpha, doing what she’s asked to do – this is as alien to her as walking upright would be, yet at the same time, it isn’t strange at all, and you can see her becoming, right before our eyes, a workhorse.  Two months ago she was skittery and lacking manners and herd-bound to her daughter; now she is much less all that, much closer to the skilled, experienced workhorse she will be in the years to come.  And it is happening because she’s figuring it out, and has good coaches, people who know her potential and know what is required to get her there.

There’s still much to be done and a long way to go.  Jason wrote yesterday that he’d bought a new sulky plow and is planning to hitch the girls between the two geldings they are pastured next to and have grown accustomed to, so they can learn to work by their example, alongside horses that know to move when asked and stop when told and stay still in between.  That should be a mind-opening experience for both of them.

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  The horses have been at Jason’s for a month and a half now; not all of that time in training, of course – work schedules and weather take precedence as they should – but they’ve been getting schooled in all the basics and have really come a long way.  Mel and Adam have handled them nearly every day and worked with Jason on all the lessons so this is a real team effort.  I am glad we were able to get the horses to them well before they were finished with their Biological Woodsmen apprenticeship, so they are part of the girls’ training right from the start.  It will make for a very strong bond between the young horses and handlers, I think.

The weather was cold and nasty as January finished out, so they spent time in the barn, introducing them to bits in their mouths and simply handling them a lot on the ground including mane and forelock thinning.  They discovered J didn’t like being touched on her poll or top of the head, and would fret and shake her head, so that had to be worked through.  Adam is very tall (he makes her look small in the photo above but she’s really a brute) and exceptionally patient, which helped a great deal. 

Next they sacked them out with an old bridle, and put the harness on them.  More bit familiarity, learning to be comfortable with it in their mouths, eat around it, and yield to pressure as a signal.   Jason wrote, “They are getting better manners every day, and we will keep up their handling toward the end of them being productive working animals.”  I’d remarked they were like kindergarten students, to which Jason replied they were more at an elementary school level – such good news to hear. 

Hooves were trimmed the next week, and the horses did very well – all the daily handling had paid off.  On February 5th Jason wrote, “I think they did very well with the foot work.  Having good control on their head and teaching them about standing still, respecting our space and being rewarded for submitting to our handling of their feet is important.  They are tractable.  We will make great horses out of them.”  

They are spending time in separate box stalls during the day, which is making them braver and less attached to each other as a herd, and better animals all around.  School is going well.

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We arrived at the girls’ new home in southwest Virginia around 3 pm – a little later than planned for, as the 7+ hour drive from Kentucky turned into more like 8 with a few wrong turns and all the winding roads to navigate through.  We’ll surely plot a more straightforward route for next trip, but it was scenic and took us through some beautiful country we’d never seen before.

After hello’s and introductions, Jason took us straight out to the barn where J and L were waiting in box stalls, getting brushed by Melanie.  She led them out one at a time, to stand there in the corridor near the open door, for me to have a look.  Oh, what horses these are.  Tall and thick, with legs like oak trees and densely muscled haunches and shoulders – they’ll be pullers for sure, once trained and used to it.  For now they are very good at one thing:  eating hay, and have not learned to stand still, and are maddeningly attached to each other, as you would expect a pair of horses kept together and not worked to be.

I had asked if we could see them move in the round pen, and the late afternoon was not too cold, so we took them up js-first-lesson_girl-in-motionthere one at a time, to see their response to Jason’s gentle requests, loose in the corral with him.  They started out distracted, but moved out well when asked, and connected with him in just a few minutes – a good first lesson, I think.

We led them back down to the pasture in front of the house, and went in to the warmth for a wonderful evening of  conversation, endless stories, and delicious home-cooked food.  I was sorry we only had the one afternoon to spend there.  But it was good to meet everyone, and see the horses, and know they are in good hands.

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Delivered, finally










 Yesterday afternoon the seller emailed to tell me the horses were on their way.  They left late Tuesday, and he said they looked so good, those two big horse butts in the trailer with their pretty new (warm) blankets on, ready for the ride.  He expected them to get to Virginia Wednesday afternoon, which they did.  Jason emailed yesterday to say they made it; they were good big mares for sure, and the filly was silly but not mean or bitchy like the one he’d had to contend with the first time this woman tried to haul, when she brought just her own two down and left mine waiting in Michigan.

So he just posted a quick note to tell me they were there, and said he’d write more later and outline his proposal for this project.  I am delighted to know the transfer from Michigan to Virginia has finally happened, the horses are safe, and they’ve made a good impression on Jason, who will be training them to harness and work. 

The “project” is just that – these horses were imprinted at birth but handled very little since then — they were up for sale as having “potential” for working in harness, which they have, based on their bloodlines, all good working animals there — but they’ve had absolutely no acceptance training, no fundamentals at all yet, so they’ve a ways to go.  We weren’t looking for green horses, we were looking for a team already started, that could jump right into the logging jobs he and the apprentices are working this winter… but I moved too fast on this deal, and so the original plan is more complex, will take longer and cost more,  for my haste. 

We’d already agreed we wanted these mares for their breeding potential,  though, and when their lack of training came up I bridged the sticking point by making clear to Jason he would be paid well for the service, if he had the extra time and inclination to take the project on.  I’m not looking for “something for nothing” here, I understand the task involved and since I’m not there to do it myself, and he’s been training horses for many years (and I’ve seen his horses in action; the results are fabulous), I can’t pass up the chance to get my horses started right, no matter what the cost.

I’ll tell you this much:  run the tape ahead three years, to the day I haul them home to Kentucky myself, and begin my own round pen work and basic driving exercises with them – me, a beginning teamster, with work to get done so not a lot of time to start from scratch and patiently progress both myself and a beginner team to significant working capacity.  Instead, I’ll bring home a team of horses that have been started well by a Master with the best training for their working purpose I could possible hope to give them, and who’ve had several years of working in the fields and woods under the tutelage of good horsepeople trained by the same individual… that’s a hell of a deal, just what I’m looking for, and will be worth every dollar spent.

It’s a new year, folks, and this is a great start to it.

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